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Economic Community of West African States: Single Customs Tariff Agreement

(Nov. 15, 2013) On October 25, 2013, the nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-country regional cooperative bloc, agreed to establish a single customs tariff system. (ECOWAS Member States, ECOWAS website (last visited Nov. 8, 2013); West African Bloc Moves Further Towards Regional Economic Integration, ALLAFRICA.COM (Oct. 26, 2013).) According to a joint communique, the leaders stressed the “importance of a Customs Union as a decisive and irreversible phase in the process of consolidating the common market.” (Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, Final Communique § 6 (Oct. 25, 2013), ECOWAS website.) The communique also stated that the members accepted the structure for the common external tariff that had been adopted at a previous meeting, in late September. (Id. § 8.)

The tariff plan will involve standardizing customs on goods imported into the bloc. According to Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, the customs regime will be helpful in negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. Talks for such an agreement with West Africa’s largest trade partner have begun but have not reached fruition. (West African Bloc Moves Further Towards Regional Economic Integration, supra.)

Eight of the ECOWAS members, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo, have already formed the West African Economic and Monetary Union and have a single-tariff regime and a shared currency. (West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), Office of the United States Trade Representative website (last visited Nov. 8, 2013).) The decision to create a tariff union for the full ECOWAS membership came at a special summit meeting held in Dakar, Senegal; the plan will be implemented starting in 2015. It is considered a step toward creating a common market and monetary union for all the ECOWAS states by 2020. (West African Bloc Moves Further Towards Regional Economic Integration, supra.)

In addition to the customs program, the leaders approved a levy to finance the activities of ECOWAS and discussed the violent situation in Mali. The group recommended that the U.N. mission in Mali be expanded by the addition of more troops, to counter military strikes by Islamic militants. (Id.)