Monday, June 22, 2009

ECOWAS Leaders Review Meltdown, Political Crisis

Monday, June 22, 2009

ECOWAS leaders review meltdown, political crisis

Nigerian Guardian
From Oghogho Obayuwana, Abuja

POLITICAL developments in some member-states, unemployment and the effects of the global economic crunch on the region will dominate three meetings of leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) today in Abuja.

The meetings will appraise existing options on the meltdown and evolve new ones to mitigate its effects on members of the bloc.

They are being held under the mid-year Summit of Heads of State and Government of the 15-member body (the 36th in a row), Summit of Heads of State of the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), and a special ECOWAS-Spain Summit to be attended by the country's Prime Minister, Mr. Jose Zapatero.

The regional leaders, according to a summit agenda made available to The Guardian by the ECOWAS Commission at the weekend, will also review the recent political developments in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Niger.

Also expected to be approved by the leaders is the expansion to five bands of the tariff regime for West Africa, which will see the Common External Tariff (CET) increase from the four bands approved by the leaders in January 2006 to a fifth band of 35 per cent for certain categories of goods traded in the region.

The new regime is part of efforts to harmonise the CET structure in the zone in the build-up to the creation of a common market. Under the 2006 structure, member-states were required to maintain a four-band tariff regime of between zero per cent and 20 per cent for goods imported into the region from non-ECOWAS nations.

The ECOWAS-Spain summit will feature presentations by Presidents Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d'Ivoire and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, Mr. Jose Maria Neves.

The forum will also approve the regional labour and Employment Policy and Plan of Action. The policy revolves around seven core issues, including the Labour and employment vision for the region, the scope of its application, objectives, guiding principles, frame-work, areas of intervention and process of implementation.

It is supported by a plan of action that seeks to pursue five priority programmes over four years, including the pursuit of international labour and employment norms, promotion of decent work, social security for all, promotion of social dialogue as well as regional integration.

The mid-year summit will also consider the report of the 62nd session of the Council of Ministers held in Nigeria on May 27, 2009. It discussed the negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between ECOWAS and the European Union (EU), the harmonisation of the Value Added Tax (VAT) legislation in member-states, and the guiding principles and policies for the mining sector.

The Heads of State and Government will also consider the 2009 interim report of the President of the Commission, Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, which provides a synopsis of the various activities and programmes of the ECOWAS Commission and institutions of the community.

Also, the Heads of State and Government of the five member-states of the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) will strive to accelerate the creation of second currency as a precursor to the emergence of a single regional currency.

In this regard, the summit will review the roadmap recently approved by ECOWAS ministers of finance and governors of central banks for the creation of the single currency.

The financial map outlines activities to be undertaken ahead of the new date, including the review and harmonisation of the convergence criteria, the harmonisation of statistics and domestic policies as well as the legal, accounting and statistical frame-works of public finance.

Between 2009 and the first quarter of 2013, it is envisaged that the regulatory and supervisory frame-work for banking and other financial institutions will be harmonised while the payment system for cross-border transactions will be completed.

By 2014, it is expected that the legal instruments for the creation of the West African Monetary (WAMZ) zone comprising Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, will be ratified with the creation of the bank for the WAMZ zone, the WAMZ Secretariat and the envisaged West African Financial Supervisory Agency.

Finally, the monetary union for the countries in the zone is scheduled to be realised on or before 2015 before the introduction of the Eco currency in January 2015 followed by the withdrawal of the national currencies of the five member-states.

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