Enhanced linkage of regional markets, support to regional research and training centers, capacity building, as well as regional transport infrastructure are among key provisions of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB’s) newly approved strategy, which is designed to strengthen regional integration in West Africa.
The 2011-2015 Regional Integration Strategy Paper for West Africa underlined that regional integration and boosting intra-regional trade were critical to achieving more diversified development and inclusive growth among countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Approving the strategy paper, the Bank’s Board of Directors noted that despite many challenges and regional realities, progress toward integration in West Africa had already been achieved with the establishment of a customs union, free movement of people, an ECOWAS passport and the transformation of the community’s secretariat into a commission.
Speaking after the Board’s approval, the Bank’s country and regional director for West Africa, Janvier Litse, said that the new regional blueprint document will serve as the Bank’s strategic business model for supporting other regional integration operations in Africa. He explained that the paper was aligned with the ECOWAS strategic plan and 2020 vision aimed at upgrading the institution from a community of states to a people’s community. He said that the Bank’s strategy for supporting regional integration in West Africa rests on two major pillars: support to infrastructure including transport, trade facilitation and regional energy production as well as capacity building for selected regional and national institutions.
To enhance the Bank’s understanding of trade facilitation issues, the Country and regional programs and policy vice-presidency organized a high-level joint seminar with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization on: Obstacles and Barriers to Regional Trade Integration in Africa barely three days after the Board’s approval on Friday 4 November. The seminar was attended by several Bank operations staff who listened to a keynote address by Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank’s director of economic policy and poverty reduction programs for Africa. He said that Africa was not achieving its substantial potential in regional trade in goods and services because its borders had remained “thick” relative to those of other parts of the world, thus fragmenting the African market. Wondering whether trade integration really made sense to Africa, Mr. Giugale noted that key issues facing policy makers with regards to implementing effective regional trade agreements in Africa had moved beyond simply removing tariffs to regulatory issues that prevent goods, people and capital from freely crossing borders. “This is a more complex agenda that involves political ownership, putting in place appropriate regulations that allow public policy objectives to be met without unduly restricting trade and addressing entrenched political economy constraints that limit reform,” he said.
Like the African Development Bank, the World Bank is also developing new instruments and mechanisms to support deeper regional integration in Africa and incentives toward implementing existing regional commitments. Participants agreed that knowledge platforms will assist countries to design and implement regulations for integrated goods and services markets; and that better cross-sector coordination will ensure that the necessary infrastructure investments in Africa are coordinated with the policy reforms that are necessary to deliver lower trade cost.