The National Chairman of the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), Presley S. Tenwah, says the Common Extended Tariff (CET) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if amended by the Legislature would be a bad law that leaves Liberian businesses at a disadvantage because most Liberians are engaged in small businesses.
Tenwah said most of the goods Liberian businesses trade in, such as used clothes and used cars, would not benefit from the ECOWAS tariff.
The PATEL chairman made the observation yesterday in the House First Floor Conference Room in the Capital Building during a public hearing on “An Act to Amend the Act Ratifying and Adopting the ECOWAS Common External Tariff as Amended.”
The public hearing was conducted by the chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance & Development Planning and Commerce & Trade, Representative Prince Moye.
Tenwah pointed out that most of the goods that are restricted for sale by Liberians in line with the Liberianization Policy are also sold by foreign businesspeople.
He further stated that Liberia does not have factories to compete with other countries to boost the domestic economy.
Other members of PATEL, Katumba Dolley, Sheik Jallah and Leon Topoe, told the lawmakers, “That law should sleep and never wake up.”
However, the president of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC), Mr. Francis Dennis, differed with PATEL, and expressed support for the ratification of the ECOWAS CET.
He, however, urged the lawmakers to protect the “space of Liberian businesses” by ensuring that foreigners don’t venture into businesses set aside for Liberians.
The president of the Liberia Business Association (LIBA), David Sembeh, also expressed support for the CET while at the same time buttressing the LCC on the prioritization of Liberian businesses.
The Ministry of Finance & Development Planning was represented by Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs, Adolphus D. Forkpa, and the director of the Tax Policy Division, Molley O. Kiazolu.
The Assistant Minister for Trade Services Daniel Dean was also in attendance.
The Joint Committee chairman, Representative Moye, said the Committee will strive for the Liberianization Policy to be upheld, indicating that they will work closely with the Ministry of Commerce.
The co-chairman of the Joint Committee, who is also the chairman on the Committee on Commerce and Trade, Representative Samuel Kogar, said he will work to ensure the ratification of the CET protocol.
It may be recalled that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a letter to Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay recently on the ratification of the Act said: “The objective of the Bill is to create the legal framework that allows Liberia to adopt a five year migration plan to the ECOWAS CET.”
According to President Sirleaf, it was agreed among ECOWAS to adopt a common external tariff for all imported products from outside the ECOWAS community with a view to establish a custom union.
She maintained that the Act ratifying and adopting the CET in Liberia provides for a two year transitional period, thereby alleviating the immediate negative impact of the CET as it relates to basic household consumables and critical inputs.
“Due to the impact of the CET on national revenue, the ECOWAS authority has provided each country a five year transitional period (of which 2 years have elapsed) for implementing the tariffs for certain commodities.
“The Bill when passed shall repeal and replace the migration plan which was adopted under the CET implementation with a new migration plan,” she said.
According to reports, 10 member states of ECOWAS have so far implemented the CET, which came into effect in January 2015.
The ECOWAS’ CET is aimed to ensure transparency and facilitate the ease of doing business both within the sub-region and with third party countries, and would boost sub-regional trade between 10 to 14 percent.
The ECOWAS CET also has provision for temporary Import Adjustment Tax which was accommodated to allow countries to adjust to the scheme during the five-year transitional period ending in 2019.