For over five decades, regional integration has been part of the African continent’s overarching strategy for economic transformation, growth and development. The establishment of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) and indeed the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) was viewed as the panacea for seamless distribution of goods. Similarly, the introduction of trade instruments such as the recent Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) at the African level as well as the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) and the Common External Tariff (CET) at the West African regional level, are geared towards promoting seamless circulation of intra-regional trade for the overall benefit of the citizens. Importantly, the creation of RTAs and RECs was treated as essential element in addressing among other things, the challenges of small domestic markets, weak productive structures, economic growth, and widespread poverty and unemployment which trade could easily help in solving. Today, regional economic groupings abound in Africa, with varying degrees of integration, and ECOWAS is one of them progressing to a Customs Union with the adoption and implementation of the CET which has led to lower tariffs meant for optimized trade and economic integration benefits. Nonetheless, they have failed to live up to their full potential in terms of achieving significant economies of scale, increased competitiveness, industrial modernization and upgrading, higher domestic and foreign investment, and greater intra-regional trade.
In particular, while African countries have yet to fully exercise their bargaining power or to reap all the benefits of trading and engaging in a globalized world, regrettably, the local trade environment which ought to have received serious attention for accelerated growth as one of the key drivers of poverty reduction appears unattended to. Poor management of cross border trade by the political class has remained the order of the day, resulting in underdevelopment. The existence of barriers (both tariff and non-tariff) to the free movement of goods and services across countries do not appear to receive proper and required attention largely owing to lack of vision for growth and weak political capital on the part of the leadership. Specifically, the foregoing has manifested in the huge volume of corrupt practices, harassments and impediments along the border routes inhibiting free flow of intra-regional trade while the beautifully designed trade instruments stare helplessly or remain staked and dusty at the shelves of various governments. More sadly is that the major chunk of the ugly practices along the border routes are caused and perpetrated by the same government officials who are supposed to be the primary protectors and enforcers of the laws, as well as promoters and facilitators of trade for the overall benefit of the economy.
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