Federal Government and Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Monday sensitised the business community on the benefits of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
The ETLS will help to facilitate Intra-African trade and increase economic integration of the region.
Mr Zubairu Dada,Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said at a sensitisation engagement with theme: “Unhindered Market Access The ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme(ETLS)” in Lagos.
The ETLS is a trade instrument designed to facilitate intra-regional trade among member states.
The countries covered by the scheme are: Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire. Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea- Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal. Sierra-Leone and Togo.
Dada said the workshop was to create awareness amongst a large number of manufacturers and industrialists in Lagos and the entire South West Geo-Political Zone.
Dada was represented by Amb. Ngozi Ukaeje, Director, African Multilateral Affairs Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He said the objective of the ETLS, in line with the provisions of Article 3 of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, marrowed the establishment of a Customs Union among all countries in West Africa.
According to him, it also aims to eliminate customs duties and taxes of equivalent effect.
He furthered that Nigeria, being a signatory to the revised treaty and also to protocol A/P1/1/3 of Jan. 31, had fully implemented the ETSL by setting up the National Recognition of Community of Origin Committee (NRCOC).
He stated that the ETLS would pave way for Nigerian products, which were usually of a higher quality, to compete with others in member countries.
He noted that it would also encourage entrepreneurial development in Nigeria.
Dada, however, clarified that the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) does not invalidate the ETLS, instead it would open countries to potentials of economic development and thatbboth would exist concurrently.
“The ministry is well aware of the information gap that has led to bottlenecks experienced in the registration process under the ETLS and hopes that this sensitization programme will ease those hurdles.
“It is imperative to sensitize the Organised Private Sector (OPS) as well as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) on the benefits of ETLS, and its administration to fully explore the scheme.
“It is equally important to mention that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is another stride in Africa’s regional integration history and is expected to generate significant gains.
“However, it is the rules of origin that will determine whether preferential trade liberalisation under the AfCFTA can be a game-changer for Africa’s industrialisation,” he said.
President, LCCI, Dr Michael Olawale-Cole, noted that the growth decline and economic shocks experienced by global economies significantly impacted the performances of agricultural, manufacturing and services.
Olawale-Cole represented by Deputy President, LCCI, Dr Gabriel Idahosa, noted that while there were some challenges with the ETLS.
Olawale-Cole said it had however achieved mild progress in areas such as macroeconomic policy harmonisation, research and youth empowerment, freer trade.
According to him, the challenge of several West African nations are over-reliant on money from import taxes.
He noted the dependency was a threat to the integration arrangement, and which could be addressed constructively.
Olawale-Cole said the OPS and ECOWAS must work together to improve regional integration in West Africa via combined efforts of all relevant parties.
This, he said include chambers of commerce, governments, security agencies, development partners, and so on.
“In recent times, the aggressive drive by governments to increase revenue has been the major rationale for increasing tariffs rather than the protection of local firms and prevention of dumping.
“This is evident in the fact that tariffs which is one of the main facets of integration, is highly discriminatory and, thus, does not instil much trust among member-states.
“Government should not limit private sectors participation to sensitisation phase alone where the request to drive reforms are minimal, but active participation of OPS should be strengthened by engaging LCCI and others at the policy formulation stage.
“Consensus reached at this stage will require less sensitisation because it is all inclusive and represent the submission or position of all stakeholders without prejudice to government intentions on the policy,” he said.
Governor of Lagos, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, reiterated his commitment to expanding and harnessing the potentials of the business community through the development and improvement of electricity generation in the state.
Sanwo-Olu, represented by Mr Olalere Odusote, Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, said improved power generation would engender competitiveness of companies in the state while participating in the AfCFTA.
“We have to keep expanding the way we think and do business in the state to maintain relevance at the national, intra-African and international level to drive trade.
“Lagos is working with the national level to provide more electricity in line with the need of the state seeing that the amount of power gotten from the national grid is insufficient.
“Just imagine how much savings we would generate from diesel generator use alone and we “We want everyone to understand what Lagos means to Nigeria and to Africa and work with us to achieve the greatness the state promises,” he said.