Mano River Union (MRU) countries yesterday, March 23, began a 2-day brainstorming initiative on the way to boost inter-regional trade and promote industrial activities through effective and inclusive implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS), including the entire West African space or countries.
The principal objective of the workshop is to sensitize and familiarize relevant MRU officials and members of the private sector on the key elements of the ETLS, with a special focus on its application, and issues such as: approved enterprises, ‘originating product’, the Role of National Approval Committee, and the percentage of raw material required before products can be enjoyed.
At the kickoff of the event, held at a local resort in Monrovia, Ambassador Tunde Ajisomo, ECOWAS representative to Liberia, said the ETLS was adopted to facilitate the achievement of one of the first objectives of the Community: creation of a Free Trade Area.
He said it serves as a platform for a common market through the liberalization of trade by the abolition of customs duties levied on imports and exports amongst Member States; and the abolition of non-tariff barriers.
Amb. Ajisomo said ETLS is one of the major pillars for the consolidation of the Common Market and Regional Integration in West Africa, lauding Liberia for commitment to the vision and ideals of promoting ECOWAS’ Economic Integration Agenda.
He stressed that the ETLS serves as the main operational instrument for the promotion of ‘Free Trade Areas’ in the West African sub-region, and is in tandem with the objectives for which ECOWAS was established.
Also speaking, Stephen T. Marvie Jr., Deputy Minister of Commerce and Trade Services at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), urged MRU countries to promote simplification, harmonization and standardization, which are critical elements needed to ensure a smooth implementation of ETLS in the region.
“We need to grow the economies of the region. With the advent of the health crisis, many of the people look up to us as policymakers to resuscitate the economy. They are also aware that commodity prices for key exports have fallen,” Minister Marvie said.
The Minister said the people of MRU countries are aware that the investment climate may not be appropriate; yet, they depend on policymakers to make innovative and constructive ways to fix the economy, reduce poverty and promote trade.
He disclosed that the government is in the process of getting a private sector operator to come in and set up a single window platform to handle the exchange of trade transactions between traders and government agencies, particularly to reduce the time it takes to process trade among government agencies.
“We aim to reduce the time and documents to import and export, as well as improve other horizontal processes, including immigration, labor permits, and general issuance licenses overtime,” Minister Marvie said.
Maurice O. Ogutu, Agriculture Development Officer of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who spoke on behalf of the United States Embassy, said increasing regional trade is a cornerstone of the United States Government’s ‘Feed the Future’ strategy for food security in West Africa.
“USAID works with West African partners to boost competitiveness of the transportation and logistics sectors to reduce or eliminate unnecessary legal and regulatory barriers to trade, and to improve the efficiency of regional market transactions,” said Ogutu.
He said USAID and the US Embassy are partnering directly with ECOWAS through the Promoting Food Across Borders (PROFAB) Program to ensure stronger implementation of regional trade agreements such as the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme and to ensure that sanitary and phytosanitary measures are implemented in ways that facilitate trade while also protecting public health.