By Yunus S Saliu
As the meeting of experts and industry Ministers from ECOWAS member States for the validation of Regional Standards, Technical Regulations for lead in paint ECOSHAM wrapped up on Thursday, 30th March 2023 in Banjul, the Gambia Hon Minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration, and Employment has disclosed that despite the major strides made toward deepening Intra-ECOWAS trade, trade levels are still very low.
Hon Baboucarr Ousmaila Joof, delivering his opening statement at the forum said the reasons for this are multifaceted but have their root cause in the energy sector, and “they range from inadequate infrastructure, low levels of industrialization and productive capacity, poor implementation record of protocols and existing agreements, high cost of doing business, lack of access to trade and market information, high levels of informal trade – particularly, informal cross-border trade, among others.”
Hon Joof welcoming his counterparts to The Gambia on behalf of the President of the Republic of The Gambia thanked the ECOWAS Commission through the Department of Infrastructure, Energy, and Digitization for choosing The Gambia to host the important meeting which he said has demonstrated the importance ECOWAS places on industrial development across the region.
He noted that the technical meeting of experts thoroughly examined and validated several documents for the development of standards for off-grid solar products and PV mini-grid and revision of ECOSHAM document as well as regional harmonization of Standards on THC 01 Agro-products, THC 02 Food Products, THC O3 Chemical Products and THC 09 Informational, Communication Technology.
He, therefore, expressed gratitude to the experts for their continued commitment to providing guidance whenever called upon and informed that “these standards are catalytical for the economic growth of the ECOWAS region and giving us a sound foundation for the incoming AfCFTA.”
He said ECOWAS Commission has been engaged in developing other important economic, industrial, trade, and investment policies that are meant to create a conducive environment for achieving the targeted economic and monetary union for the region, adding that “the documents validated are undoubtedly an essential part of our trade and economic development architecture.”
Despite these regional efforts to adopt policies and strategies to facilitate and promote intra- and extra-regional trade and investment flows, Minister Joof, member countries of ECOWAS were slow at adopting and implementing relevant policies, and strategies.
According to him, regional trade is yet to develop to a level comparable to other regional trade regimes such as ASEA, NAFTA, and the European Union due to the earlier-mentioned challenges connected to low energy infrastructure with total finance from public institutions.
However, he said, the regional Off-Grid Electricity Access Project (ROGEAP) will help the countries adopt the Common External Tariffs (CETs) to facilitate cross-border trade of standalone solar products; encourage private energy service providers to offer public institutions like schools, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities with-term supply contracts so they can generate electricity from standalone solar PV systems.
Ms. Feyi Boroffice, World Bank Resident Representative in The Gambia said WB is supporting the regional harmonization efforts of standards across the ECOWAS Member States through the regional electricity project –ROGEAP.
The aim of this project, she said, is to increase electricity access to households, businesses, and public institutions by developing a regional market for standalone solar systems.
She disclosed that half of the region is not connected to the electricity rail therefore, “we need to come up with innovative solutions to ensure access to those who are not connected to electricity, one of our real goals of the ROGEAP and it covers several countries and regions.”
She added the harmonization of standards and policies is key to creating a regional market and promoting interregional trade that will create opportunities for economies of scale, and jobs and allow goods and resources to flow from areas of abundance to the area of deficit.
“Economic cooperation and regional integration are very key tools to accelerate development goods share prosperities and scaling back and to ensure the creation of an efficient market of standalone solar systems across West African countries,” she stated.
Ms. Boroffice went on that the adoption of harmonized standards is a sign of committed interstates cooperation and progress toward the establishment of a full economic and trading union which is very much needed in the region.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Economic Affairs and Agriculture, Mrs. Massandje Toure-Liste, and Honorable Minister of Energy and Industry of Guinea Bissau, Hon Augusto Poquena delivered statements at the opening of the Ministerial Meeting.
Ms Boroffice went on that the adoption of harmonize standards is a sign of committed interstates cooperation and progress towards the establishment of a full economic and trading union which is very much needed in the region.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Economic Affairs and Agriculture, Mrs. Massandje Toure-Liste and Honorable Minister of Energy and Industry of Guinea Bissau, Hon Augusto Poquena delivered statements at the opening of the Ministerial Meeting.