Editorial: ZLECA in Kigali, Morocco at ECOWAS: rational and irrational fears

The African Continental Free Trade Area was signed on March 21 in Kigali by 44 African countries. This giant step is held back by Nigeria, the continent’s leading economy, which abruptly suspended its participation on the eve of the summit of heads of state under pressure from its industry association.

They denounce the non-involvement of the private sector in the negotiations and condition any membership of the ZLECA, process leading to the removal of 90% of customs duties, clarification of the rules of origin.

Many observers recall that by boycotting Kigali, the West African giant, sponsor of the Lagos Plan of 1980 and the 1991 Abuja Treaty, breaks with its tradition of state-of-the-art state in matters of solidarity and African integration.
Signatory of the Common External Tariff (CET) in force on
within ECOWAS, Nigeria faces direct competition
Brazilian chicken and various products imported into Benin and then re-exported to the markets of Lagos and Abuja. Needless to mention the rules of origin in this case since the products that leave Benin to its powerful neighbor, like those that come from (fuel), take the path of contraband.

In fact, Nigeria would gain by pushing ECOWAS and UEMOA towards the harmonization of the rules and procedures of trade in goods and services. But anachronisms are legion.

Thus, the chassis weight on the trucks is not the same between the zone and the sub-zone. ECOWAS sets the height at 4.5m, UEMOA stops at 4m. Other brake raised
by operators, the aberration of the free zones. If these centers of production have multiplied, they have not facilitated inter-regional trade. A biscuit made in a free zone in Togo pays 50% tax (VAT and customs) if it wants to span the physical barrier that separates this country from Ghana. As a result, despite the efforts made by the States to attract industrialists to these free zones, these are not very competitive. The biscuit made in a West African free zone is more expensive than the biscuit made in Turkey and exported to the region. The current status quo on these issues reduces the scope of ECOWAS and feeds private sector concerns about the utility of large signatures.

ECOWAS is, in our view, a small model
of the ZLECA. However, this laboratory is struggling to break down customs barriers despite once again the CET. On the contrary, non-tariff barriers tend to increase. We remember the oil war between Abidjan and Dakar, the non-liberalization of the fleet of trucks between countries.

In fact ECOWAS remains a beautiful union to perfect, by freeing the flow of capital, by harmonizing the collateral and the bank guarantees, the conditions of exercise of the insurance companies, the rules on the financial year, by completing the open skyetc.

By the rule of law, it would be beneficial to generalize the OHADA or find a compromise to facilitate business between the areas under continental law jurisdiction and the common law. The question of the single or common currency should not overshadow these aspects.

A positive point in the ECOWAS assets is the free movement of people, which is held back by different procedures according to airports and countries. The right of establishment also remains theoretical.

These brakes, we find in Kigali where only 27 countries have signed the Protocol of the African Union on Free Movement of Persons, which supplements the ZLECA by providing for the nationals of the signatory countries the abolition of visas, the right of residence, the right to establish professional institutions.
The reservation to this protocol expresses the irrational fear of the “Polish plumber” diagnosed in the European political debate during the enlargement of the EU to Eastern Europe. This fear is still strong in the world of some countries that are refractory to the ZLECA by a purely static analysis.
The dynamism of such a union, sensible, according to the African Economic Commission, potentially increase intra-African trade by 52.3% by eliminating tariff barriers
and doubling the volume of trade if non-tariff barriers are also removed, deserves a cold analysis. These irrational fears at the continental level are parasitic at the regional level, the intense debate on the accession of Morocco to ECOWAS. West African manufacturers fear being phagocyted by their Moroccan counterparts
more developed. Certainly, but the danger would be to stop the analysis at this level.

It is up to the ECOWAS and Morocco negotiators to give meaning to their convergence by promoting the establishment
joint ventures for the processing of raw materials, the transfer of technology and the implementation of various rules beneficial to both parties. For, with or without Morocco, the embryo of the West African clothing textile industry has disappeared in the face of cheap Chinese products and bales of user clothes from the USA. With or without Morocco, the construction sector is dominated by the Chinese and the Turkish because, here too, rules conducive to local operators.

For example, Morocco exports annually $ 1 million worth of agricultural products to Senegal, 2/3 of which consists of phosphates, the rest of oranges generally coming from Agadir. Note that the same Senegal records $ 6 billion deficit with China and $ 3.5 billion with Turkey.

Perhaps, by conducting serious and transparent technical negotiations, ECOWAS will be able to endorse balanced partnership schemes allowing Moroccan and West African private sector to join forces in the processing of local agricultural products.
Ivorian cocoa (only 5% locally processed) with cashew nuts and mangos.

Already a signatory to several agreements with the ECOWAS countries, the accession of Morocco, the largest investor in the region, in fact only legalize a formal marriage concubinage.
On the macroeconomic level, Morocco and Nigeria would form this French-German couple, which is supposed to pull the entire sub-region upwards. May be, to materialize
In this dream, ECOWAS will need to establish a Foreign Ministry to unify its political vision and present a united front in international negotiations. The disastrous division demonstrated in Brussels during the EPA negotiations has shown that, without political convergence, economic convergence remains precarious.

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