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West Africa : Implementing an agricultural trade facilitation programme for food security

The process to improve the contribution of the regional trade in agricultural products to food security continues in West Africa. Stakeholders are putting the finishing touches of a programme to support the free movement of agricultural products.

The process for the establishment of a Food Across Borders in West Africa Support Programme, which started in Accra, in January 2013, with the support of USAID, is now in its last phase. Diverse technical and political reflections and consultations initiated under the ECOWAP/CAADP process have culminated in the development of a programme to "Support the implementation of the Accra recommendations on Food Across Borders in West Africa"

Both the regional integration organisations (ECOWAS, UEMOA, CILSS) and their partners, as well as non-state actors brainstormed together in order to better understand the challenges of the regional trade in agricultural products for the food security and resilience of the people.
At the joint initiative of ECOWAS, UEMOA and USAID was held in Accra, Republic of Ghana, from 29 to 31 January 2013, a regional conference on the theme: "Food Across Borders: Improving Food Security in West Africa through the Development of Intra-regional Trade". The aim was to "Stimulate dialogue between the public and private sectors and identify measures to reduce constraints to the regional trade in food commodities"

From 2013 to 2014, the issue formed the subject matter of a series of stakeholder meetings to analyse issues and foresee the implementation of recommendations of the Accra Conference. The Lome meeting provided an opportunity to clarify the content of planned actions, the role of each stakeholder and finalize planning of the programme implementation for the first year.

Increasing regional trade

West Africa’s intra-regional trade accounts for 11% to 12% of ECOWAS global trade while for the EU (its main partner) intra-regional trade accounts for nearly 80% of its total trade. One of the programme’s goals is to contribute to increase trade in agricultural products by five percentage points, over a period of five years.
There are still many barriers to trade despite the existence of a trade liberalization scheme. In addition to road barriers, exchange problems - due to the existence of several currencies - increase the cost of goods and limit regional trade. ECOWAS is now a free trade area and plans to be a Customs Union on 1 January 2015.
The conclusion of the Customs Union process, with the introduction of the CET, is expected as a major step likely to boost regional trade in West Africa. The CET is planned to be implemented in January 2015 with a five-year moratorium, a period during which discussions will continue on a number of issues and topics which haven’t been resolved yet.

At the Accra Conference on Food Across Borders, participants discussed barriers and obstacles to regional trade, particularly with regard to road harassment, collection of illegal taxes, export restrictions on cereals and other food products imposed by some States during food crises, the issue of certificates of origin, veterinary, sanitary and phytosanitary certifications and the application of Value Added Tax (VAT) to home grown products from the region.
Traders and transporters in the West Africa region frequently complain about the many formal and especially informal barriers that limit the extension of trade and, by increasing the price of products, hinder their accessibility for most consumers and especially the poor. Likewise, these barriers induce the downward pressure on the remuneration of producers, thereby limiting their ability to invest to improve productivity. Finally, these trade barriers are creating a climate of uncertainty highly detrimental to the investment of the various actors of the value chains".

Increasing the number of observation points and corridors

The Accra Conference had made five strong recommendations: (1) Ensure good communication of rules amongst the different target audiences (border service officers, economic operators and professional organisations) by utilizing the media at all levels (local, national and regional); (2) Ensure compliance with regulations, which induces specific responsibilities for national and regional public institutions and the various categories of operators and their professional associations and organisations; (3)Better document the importance of the regional market in the food security of each country and the region; (4)Develop advocacy in each country and structure the public/private dialogue on that scale to get the States to respect the commitments they have made at the regional level; and (5)Provide the region with an integrated trade policy.

The trade monitoring and observation work conducted by the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and the Borderless Alliance through some corridors has shown that despite the efforts made, road harassment and abnormal practices still continue. Incidental charges paid by actors for the movement of people and goods remain in all countries and are harmful to the regional trade.

Following the introductory presentations, participants in the Lome meeting stressed: the need to greatly expand the number of monitoring and observation stations and corridors, particularly on the Accra-Cotonou-Lagos corridor and to take into account new corridors such as the Niamey-Lagos corridor; and the need to take into account the different transport modes, including the passage of cattle on foot, through transhumance.

In the opinion of several economic operators, it is cheaper to trade between a country in the region and a Western country, than within the region. This is confirmed on the continental scale, at the last ReSAKSS annual conference. Some of the highlighted barriers to trade include: (i) the persistence of multiple fragmentations of trade and monetary policies, (ii) security problems, (iii) the imperfections and corruption of control agencies, (iv) the chronic lack of information of actors on the Community provisions for regional trade, (v) the tendency of some States to take measures banning exports of food products, including cereals, especially during food crises and (vi) the complexity of procedures for obtaining approvals from the ministries of industry and trade. These barriers are evidenced by the multiplication of checkpoints along the major corridors and the proliferation of illegal taxes. This contributes to increased prices of commodities at their place of destination.

Although there is no common commercial policy in place yet, the region has just initialled an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union for the establishment of a free trade area between the two regions. In the opinion of some experts, the implementation of this agreement would result in increased trade between Europe and the region, to the detriment of trade within the region.

Since its inception in 1975, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has made the free movement of people and goods a major challenge for the promotion of the regional market and the construction of the region’s economic integration.

Par Abel Gbêtoénonmon

WANEJ / Agence Afrique Performance

Hub Rural

Crédits: AK-Project