Representatives from trade ministries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the International Trade Centre (ITC), and other trade, customs and regional organisations will meet in Abidjan on 14 and 15 June to discuss ways of removing regulatory and procedural non-tariff’ obstacles to regional trade.

The roundtable, co-organised by the African Development Bank and ITC, will be attended by Jean-Louis Billon, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister for Commerce; Aicha Pouye, ITC’s Director of Business and Institutional Support, and delegates from the 15 ECOWAS countries.

ITC will present insights on obstacles to regional trade within the ECOWAS bloc drawn from national business surveys on non-tariff measures (NTMs) in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Senegal.

These surveys, which collectively document the experiences of nearly 2,000 exporters and importers, capture the trade-related challenges encountered at the product and partner country level by companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

NTMs cover measures such as sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards (SPSs), technical barriers to trade (TBTs), price control measures, import and export licensing, inspections, as well as rules determining the origin of goods for the purposes of tariff treatment.

Ms. Pouye said: “The trade landscape of the 21st century is one characterised by low tariffs with the average global applied tariff reflecting around 5% of the cost of trade, while non-tariff measures may account for roughly 30% of international trade costs. It is important to identify these measures and focus on where barriers can be alleviated and regional harmonisation accomplished. This will serve not only to boost inter- and intra-regional trade, but to make the region more attractive to investment.”

Commenting ahead of the meeting, Moono Mupotola, Director of NEPAD Regional Integration and Trade Department at AfDB said: “International trade can be a powerful engine for sustained economic growth, generating new job opportunities. Key policy reforms for increased intra-African trade can lead to youth unemployment reduction and stimulate inclusive growth for Africa’s economic transformation.”

“During our discussions, we will work towards setting up a framework and an action plan to alleviate non-tariff restrictions to boost Africa’s regional integration agenda, one of the five pillars of the Bank’s High 5s vision,” she added.

Participants at the roundtable will look at trade integration initiatives in the region; and analyze high priority obstacles to intra-regional trade identified by governments and other regional stakeholders.

The six NTM surveys will serve as a basis for identifying key challenges and agreeing on concrete action at the national and regional levels to help address the obstacles as a means to further facilitate regional trade integration.

A roadmap for implementation is expected to be validated and announced at the end of the two-day deliberations.