'Strengthening Trade Can Transform Africa'
By Alvin Worzi
Liberia’s Minister of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) Axel M. Addy, says strengthening trade among all West African nations can contribute to the transformation of the economy, adding that Liberia is ready for business.
Speaking at the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) 8th Trade Ministers’ forum on Wednesday held at a resort in Sinkor, Minister Addy noted that the forum offers member states to opportunity to share country experiences on cross-border trade issues and peer review status of implementation of ECOWAS trade integration commitments with a view to achieve WAMZ trade integration goals.
“Your presence here today indicates the commitment of the Member States to the improvement of intra-regional trade, which is estimated to be about 10 percent. The importance of trade to economic growth cannot be over emphasized and hope this forum will proffer recommendations that will improve trade among us,” Minister Addy said.
He said before the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, Liberia was the only non-World Trade Organization (WTO) member in the ECOWAS and WAMZ region and lauded President Sirleaf for her good leadership and commitment to ensure that Liberia achieves WTO accession, adding, “We are proud to be granted the opportunity to assist other acceding countries under the brand Liberian Model.”
According Minister Addy, Liberia cannot improve trade without investing in trade facilitation, which is critical to unlocking the potential of the private sector and creating inclusive growth for the people.
Over the last ten years, he said, “We have pursued our goals as prescribed in our Agenda For Transformation (AFT) for inclusive growth. We have focused on infrastructure, primarily energy, roads and ports as transformation is not possible without infrastructure.”
He continued, “Since 2014, we recalibrated policy to emphasize economic diversification. We decided to move away from dependency on few commodities from the extractive sector due to our vulnerability to external factors.
Minister Addy said the government remains committed to providing affordable commercial and domestic energy throughout Liberia.
By November, he said, “Three HFO power plants will be online producing 38 MW of electricity. We are in advance stages of completing the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee power plant, which will contribute 22MW by December of this year and 88 MW once it is fully online. By 2017, we intend to reach 54,000 households and significantly reduce the price of energy.”
Speaking of road infrastructure, Minister Addy said the government has rehabilitated nearly 698 kilometers of city, feeder and market access roads and neighborhood roads to tackle the challenge faced by transport sector.
“Our investment in infrastructure goes beyond energy and roads. Our port infrastructure remains essential for trade facilitation, which is why we recently signed a framework agreement for the Roberts International Airport,” Minister Addy said.
Edwin Puwogar, Macroeconomist, ECOWAS National Coordinator Committee-Liberia who spoke on behalf Salifou Tiemtore, Director of Customs at the ECOWAS Commission, expressed his deepest gratitude to Liberia for hosting the meeting of the WAMZ Trade Ministers’ Forum in Monrovia and to all the WAMZ member countries for their commitment to the monetary and trade integration process of ECOWAS and the WAMZ.
ECOWAS Commission acknowledges with sincere gratitude, the important contributions of the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI) to the effective implementation of the regional integration agenda of ECOWAS and their participation in ECOWAS programmes on monetary and trade integration, including meetings on multilateral of the ECOWAS-WAMI Joint Task Force on Trade-related Issues.
He said there is an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ECOWAS Commission and WAMI on the promotion of trade-related issues in ECOWAS and the WAMZ. This is borne out of the recognition that trade promotion is critical and vital for the success and effectiveness of monetary integration, poverty reduction and overall regional development. Trade in the Community is evolutionary.
He said ECOWAS, since its inception has had a trade policy designed to increase intra-regional commerce, raise trade volume and generally galvanise the economic activities within the region in such a way as to positively impact on the economic wellbeing of ECOWAS citizens.
“The ECOWAS trade policy is also meant to foster the smooth integration of the region into the world economy with due regard for the political choices and development priorities of Member States in the desire to engender sustainable development and reduction of poverty. Today, the total ECOWAS trade has increased by an average of 18 percent per year between 2005 and 2014,” Mr. Puwogar said.
On the issues of intra-regional trade and the establishment of a Customs Union, he said, the Commission focused during 2016 its efforts to the effectiveness of the Customs Union in particular through the application of the Common External Tariff (CET) of ECOWAS and the formulation of a strategy with a view to ensure the effective implementation of the Trade Liberalization Scheme of ECOWAS.
He said available data reveal that intra-ECOWAS trade, as a percentage of total external trade was not above 14 percent. This is unlike the European Union that has intra-regional trade not less than 60 percent of its total external trade. This dismal intra-ECOWAS official trade is not unconnected to a number of challenges including non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade.
He said concerted efforts are being made at the level of ECOWAS Commission, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to reduce the barriers to the barest minimum.
ECOWAS Commission, as a key stakeholder, will continue to work diligently with all other stakeholders to ensure that the vision of a single economic space and an ECOWAS of People rather than an ECOWAS of States is realized by the year 2020.