ECOWAS, AU Synergy toward Maritime Transport, Security

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An ECOWAS Ministerial Council Meeting held Monday, October 17, chaired Liberia’s Transport Minister Angela Cassell Bush, is expected to have adopted a resolution to establish a Transnational Shipping Company while at an AU gathering over the weekend, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pushed for maritime security and the active involvement of landlocked states in the formulation of continental maritime policy.

The proposed Transnational Shipping Company is envisaged as an efficient coastal transport system that will be an alternative transportation solution to the already challenged road transport system for the effective implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS), which was formulated in 1975 and revised in 1993.

ETLS protocols on the free movement of goods are aimed at eliminating all tariffs and non-tariff barriers to regional trade and harmonize product safety and other standards.

According to a press release, the one-day Ministerial Council Meeting in Lomé, Togo, was organized by ECOWAS in collaboration with the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI). The gathering focused on the Regional Maritime Transport Project (SEALINK) and aimed to apprise the Ministers on the project’s implementation status and to seek their financial and policy support to allow the project to move onto its operationalization phase.

“One of the reasons why this idea of coastal transportation is important is that it will ease transportation of people, goods and services between member states by providing alternatives to air and road transportation,” Minister Cassell Bush said, days ahead of the meeting.

She further disclosed that at the technical level, she has enjoined Liberia’s experts, particularly a representative from the National Port Authority, to explore possibilities of how inland waterways of member states can also be utilized in the same manner.

Prior to the Ministers’ meeting, the project was presented to experts from member states for their review, comments and recommendations to their Ministers on the way forward.

At the same time a proposal for fiscal incentives to be accorded to the proposed Sealink Company and a another proposal for port authorities in member-states to provide special berthing rights to Sealink and any other facilities that would strengthen the company’s position as an intra-ECOWAS trade facilitation tool.

ECOWAS Member states are also to take a stake in the company in the form of either a loan, through EBID, or in the form of equity and a resolution requesting the member-state in which the company would be headquartered to accord the company a diplomatic status.

Participants include Ministers in charge of maritime transport in member-states, experts from ministries in charge of maritime transport in member-states, ECOWAS Commission delegation from the departments of infrastructure, industry and private sector promotion, macro-economic policy and research, communication and finance.

In a related development ahead of the ECOWAS Ministerial Council Meeting, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Saturday, October 15, 2016 joined fellow African Heads of State and Government to adopt the African Union Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development during the AU Extraordinary Summit held in Lome, Togo.

According to an Executive Mansion release, the African leaders adopted and signed the Charter at a one-day Extraordinary Summit held in the Togolese capital, Lome.

Addressing the summit, President Sirleaf said expressed Liberia’s acceptance and commitment to the adoption and signing of the Charter and “work with all of those in promoting our collective efforts to improve the coordination and improvement of all its activities related to maritime and water ways.”

President Sirleaf said it is critical that the African effort will ensure the safety, security and development of sea, erosion and waterways, adding that concerns must be shown towards landlocked countries, stressing: “While a vast number of Members States of our continental groupings may have access to the sea, the consideration of landlocked countries should be articulated in the Charter so that they don’t lose out on the benefit of the framework”.

“It is a historic decision in the history of our continent, which is facing an upsurge of maritime piracy,” she added. She said “This Charter aims at preventing and curbing national and transnational crime, especially terrorism, piracy and armed robbery against ships, as well as all forms of trafficking at sea; also aims at protecting environment in general and particularly maritime environment in coastal and island states, as well as strengthening cooperation in the field; and the Charter commits signatories to creating national, regional and continental institutions to promote maritime security and safety.

President Sirleaf also used the occasion to congratulate Dr. Carlos Lopes, outgoing Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) for his many years of excellent services rendered the continent, and for his audacity in thought as he tries to promote the African continent.

The Summit brought together some 30 African Heads of State and Government with the aim of securing a long-term AU commitment to make maritime space the key driver of Africa’s economic and social development.

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