By Oludare Richards, Cotonou
THE COVID-19 pandemic and security issues have been identified by the ECOWAS Parliament as threat to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in West Africa, especially on the going concern of companies and business start ups.
Notwithstanding the benefits of free trade, there are visible threats which stall progress and create stumbling blocks to investments that in turn affect commerce and employment in the region, the ECOWAS Parliament stated.
Among these are terrorism and insecurity, which it said increase uncertainty and raise the cost of goods and services.
“Terrorism slows the flow of goods and resources through through ports due to greater inspections and safeguard and divert government expenditures from more productive public investment to less productive security activities.
“In addition to terrorism, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement,” the Speaker of the Parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis, said during an opening ceremony of two meetings scheduled with a week long activities of the Parliament in Cotonou Benin Republic.
The ECOWAS Parliament converged in Cotonou for a meeting of the “Bureau of the Parliament” and a “Delocalized meeting of the Joint Committees on Administration, Finance and Budget; Macroeconomic Policies and Economic Research; Public Accounts; Trade, Customs and Free Movement”.
The Bureau is to consider and adopt the draft budget of the Parliament for the 2021 fiscal year. The meeting is scheduled to run from November 2 to 6, 2020 while the Delocalized Meeting of the Joint Committee meet under the theme “African Continental Free Trade Area, How Feasible in the face of Cross-Border Threats” will run from November 3 to 7, 2020.
Concerning the implementation of the AfCFTA, the Speaker Tunis pointed out the need for Members of Parliament to gain better understanding its challenges and prospects.
Speaker Tunis said since the emergence of the pandemic, there has been abrupt fall in commodity prices, fiscal revenues, foreign exchange receipts, foreign financial flows, travel restrictions, a decline in tourism and hotels, and so on.
“Beyond its impact on human health, the pandemic has disrupted an interconnected world economy and border closure have reduced economic activities with following predictions of recession across the continent,” Speaker Tunis said.
“In the midst of all these, what is at stake is the dignity and well being of Africa’s farmers, workers and entrepreneurs, particularly women and youths.
“The promise of free trade is prosperity for all Africans, particularly West Africans, because it provides a prospect for the production of value-added goods and services, increase in income and better living conditions for our citizens”.
He expressed hope that the meeting of the Parliament would enlighten on the important issues and provide the Parliament with sufficient resources on the prospects of implementing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
He stressed the need for the Parliament also to be acquainted on the role it should play in mitigating challenges and facilitating the application of the AfCFTA.
Head of Benin Republic’s Delegation of the Honorable Representatives of ECOWAS Parliament, Sédami Romarique Medegan Fagla, urged member countries to not lose sight of the threats that risk undermining the AfCTA and efforts to achieve objectives especially in the face of insecurity in the region.
She explained that since the meeting of the region with the West, and since the Berlin Conference in 1884, West Africa had lost the quality of spontaneity the freedom of movement and action the AfCTA represents. She encouraged the continuity of hope generated by the creation of ECOWAS in 1975 which aims to help regain the fluidity of movements in the sub-region.
“That is why the Continental Free Exchange has been designed. Its creation aims to strengthen the dynamics of the free movement of people and goods beyond our subregion, and the African entirety.
“Deploying a continental commercial area reflects above all the desire to take possession of our common living space and to carry out activities that can improve the daily lives of our peoples.
“This is an opportunity for African intracontinental trade which, compared to other continents is still insufficient.
Also speaking at the opening of the ECOWAS delocalized meeting, the Minister for Industry and Trade, Republic of Benin, Alimatou Assouman, stressed on how crucial the AfCTA on African integration and the economies of the 26 Countries that are party to the trading rectification instruments.
Minister Allmatou Assouman called for an in-depth reflection during the meeting without laying aside the Pan-african idea.