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Nigeria Set To Establish West Africa Free Trade Zone (Posted 25th Nov, 2001) Tell your friends about this page! Email it to them.

The concept of trade is as old as time itself. Modern civilisation and its attendant development is an offshoot of trading activities. The West African sub-region has a long history of trade and commerce, which is traceable to the era of trade by barter and the trans Saharan trade routes.

Thus, the recent disclosure by the Minister for Cooperation and Integration in Africa, Chief Bimbola Ogunkelu of the establishment by Nigeria and six other West African countries of a free trade area is a much-expected development. The initiative, which is part of the fruit of the new democratic dispensation in Nigeria, is one of President Olusegun Obasanjo's programmes to forge the integration of the people on the continent by encouraging closer economic relation by national governments.

The participating countries in the programme are Niger, Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. Basically, the aim of the free trade zone is to eliminate tariff regimes inhibiting persons, goods and services originating from the affected countries. Consequently, all barriers impeding the free flow of goods will be dismantled.

According to the Minister, the short to medium term goal of the project is to facilitate the integration of Africa through infrastructure development. This is being pursued vigorously at the ECOWAS sub-regional level. Strong indications of these are the numerous projects at various stages of implementation. Among these are:

  • An ECOWAS marine transportation, ECOMARINE 
  • Air transport facility, ECOAIR Rail network from Lagos to Accra with possible extension to Dakar through Abidjan 
  • Joint electricity power pool 
  • A West African Gas Pipeline to boost electricity supply for industrial and domestic usage 
  • A project named INTELCOM II, to service the regions telecommunication sector trans-coastal and trans-Sahelian highways to facilitate land transportation 
  • Single currency for the sub-region by 2004 
  • An ECOWAS passport, and 
  • An African Parliament

This idea is quite similar to the European experience in trans-border interactions, which is manifested through the European Union (EU).

As globalisation and the principle of contending market forces (liberalisation) are fast eroding geographical barriers in the flow of goods and services globally. At the least it is hoped that the new free trade zone idea will enjoy the maximum support and cooperation of the government's of each participating states. This much is expected with the balance that the democratisation wave in Africa has achieved in terms of political stability, instabilities in the past has been the bane of such earlier projects. With time the fruit of this programme will be reaped with careful implementation.


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