Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Chairman, ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme Taskforce, has called on lawyers to take up cases of violation of ECOWAS protocols and rules governing the World Trade Organisation and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to facilitate free trade in West Africa.
He said though there were regional laws governing the free movement of goods, people, finance, and investment, some institutions were becoming impediments to the implementation of those laws.
Dr Chambas said this during the opening of a two-day joint regional workshop for stakeholders of cross-border trade and rule of law workshop for Ghana, Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.
The workshop, organized by the Profector of Sentiments (POS) Foundation, a leading civil society organization in the area of access to justice and advocacy for the right to information, was on the theme: “Promoting Small-Scale Cross Border Trade, Rule of Law and Use of Technology in West Africa.”
He said those challenges frustrated traders, who were mostly women, hence the need for the lawyers to take up those matters to make cross-border trading easier.
Dr Chambas said it was refreshing to see representatives of the private sector and civil society stepping up their engagement with policymakers across the ECOWAS sub-region.
Regional integration aided countries to overcome divisions that impeded the flow of goods, services, people, capital, and ideas.
“Trade is one of the easiest ways for countries to integrate across borders through physical and virtual/technological means. As such, the rule of law plays a fundamental role at national, bilateral, and multilateral levels of engagements,” he said.
Dr Chambas, therefore, commended the POS Foundation for breaking the grounds to help provide legal support to informal small-scale businesses in remote communities across borders.?
In the absence of a clear and effective dispute resolution mechanism in West Africa, the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme Taskforce presented an opportunity to expedite grievances to the state concerned.
He lauded the Foundation’s proposal to train a team of legal and paralegal experts, who would give their time and expertise in the service of the various border communities and along the active trade corridors of West Africa.
Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu, the Executive Director of POS Foundation, said the Justice for all programme, through criminal justice and rule of law, had reduced remand prison congestion from 33 per cent to 12 per cent.
There would be no development without human rights, hence, the need to promote rule of law and economic emancipation to bring about sustainable development.
Mr Osei Owusu said Africa was endowed with over 40 per cent of the world’s natural resources yet it was considered a poor continent, adding that the region needed innovation, technology, and a conducive atmosphere to have the power in negotiating for the best on the world market.
The Executive Director said Africa needed a coordinated, concerted, and harmonized system to promote trade. ?
Naana Yepoyo Dadetsu III, Queen of Dodowa, Chairperson for the occasion, called for a special desk to help traders fill their duty papers when importing goods and services.?
Participants called for government’s assistance to small-scale enterprises after COVID-19, enforcement of ECOWAS treaties on a free flow of goods, a common currency, unique passport, removal of language barrier, multiple checks, extortions, and arbitrary levies, among other things the hindered trade.