Business News of Saturday, 14 February 2015
Source: Graphic Online
At the end of their Second Tripartite Meeting in Accra, representatives of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), also known as (UEMOA) and the World Bank Group have agreed on a set of priorities aimed at significantly diversifying and transforming the economies of the sub-region.
The delegates highlighted, among other things, boosting agricultural productivity and marketing; making the infrastructural components of transportation (road and air) and energy more efficient; scaling up efforts to eradicate Ebola and other infectious diseases and preventing violent conflicts, while implementing the sub-region’s Common External Tariff (CET) which became effective from January 1, 2015.
“Since our first meeting in July 2013, we have made considerable progress in implementing an ambitious joint action plan in the six areas that we prioritised — Agriculture, Education, Trade and Trade Facilitation, Transport, Regional Investment Climate and Sahel,” Colin Bruce, World Bank Africa Regions Director responsible for Regional Integration, was quoted as saying in a release issued from the World Bank office in Accra.
It added, “Over the past two days, we have had some very fruitful discussions and have identified a few transformational priorities, work programmes, timelines and division of responsibilities which would form the bedrock of our collaboration in the next two years.”
The meeting, according to the release, flagged risks to socio-economic development, flowing from the powerful headwinds that the sub-region’s oil producers were facing as a result of oil prices falling by over 50 per cent over the last four months, alongside more moderate price dips for many commodities, metals and minerals.
“A key priority, the delegates concluded, must be to accelerate reforms that simulate more diversified, inclusive and sustainable economic growth by unleashing the potential for private investments,” the release said.
It also indicated that an important priority highlighted was how to increase the productivity of food staples two or threefold, notably by expanding access to fertilisers and certified seeds.
The release said progress had also been made on the development and adoption of new technologies, especially the use of certified seeds, adding that, “In this regard, the Meeting emphasised the need to assist farmers in accessing markets, as well as strengthening extension, post-harvest storage and management systems.”
The delegates stressed the importance of reforms to modernise transportation services in West Africa.
They reiterated calls for the effective establishment of the Abidjan-Lagos Transport Authority, the cutting of dwell times in ports, the reduction of road blocks and the time to cross borders on the corridor which handles more than two-thirds of the trade, transport and transit activities of the entire sub-region.
They also applauded the decision by Heads of State at the African Union Summit in late January 2015 to establish a Single African Transport Market for African airlines by January 1, 2017 and encourage member states to fully implement the Yamoussoukro Agreement on Air Transport.
According to Kabre Desire Ouedraogo, President of the ECOWAS Commission, “There is unanimity among us regarding the liberalisation of the air space in the sub-region, and a call was made for the multilateral application of the Yamoussoukro Decision. We look forward to working with member countries; some of whom have been pursuing their own national airline agenda to make this goal of a common or consolidated air transportation regime a reality.”
Stressing the need for regional agreement on the maximum level of taxes and on air transport infrastructural charges as an imperative for fostering higher demand and financial solvency for airlines, the World Bank Group informed the gathering about its readiness to assist in preparing a policy paper on West Africa Air Transport and in providing technical support for: benchmarking the system; consulting stakeholders in the industry; and reviewing aviation charges; with a view to presenting a concrete proposal to the Heads of State and Governments.
The meeting, the release added, recognised that the Ebola crisis unmasked serious weaknesses in regional infectious disease prevention and surveillance systems, and the delegates strongly recommitted to working to tackle any such future threat.
It said, “The latest estimates by the World Bank suggest that the three countries worst hit by the Ebola crisis may lose as much as $1.6 billion — or 12 per cent of their combined GDP in forgone output growth in 2015, besides losing over 8,800 people to the pandemic.”
Consequently, it said the meeting, therefore, agreed to work closely with the affected countries to advocate a special post-Ebola debt cancellation package from all development partners.