Regional Integration Should Create Opportunities - Hannah Tetteh

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms. Hannah Tetteh, has appealed to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to ensure that regional integration translates into opportunities for citizens of member states of the Community. She said: “There is no doubt that since its establishment 38-years ago, ECOWAS has achieved considerable success, however, the common objectives that motivated the founders to establish ECOWAS as a regional economic community are yet to be attained”. Ms Tetteh made the call at the opening of a two-day national stakeholders’ retreat, organized jointly by ECOWAS and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration on the theme: “Towards Development and Investment Framework within an Integrated Region” over the weekend. The meeting assessed follow-up actions on decisions taken to strategize and make projections for 2013 and 2014, and to discuss Ghana’s position on regional integration with a view to improve the coordination and collaboration between the ECOWAS National Unit, the public, private and non-state actors. Ms. Tetteh said over the past few decades, ECOWAS has been compelled to shift its focus from its core mandate of sub-regional economic integration to addressing challenges of conflict and political instability. She said currently, the sub-region was experiencing newer threats that affect peace and stability and economic survival, and cited piracy and armed robbery in ships on Gulf of Guinea, poaching and pollution of the marine environment, drug and human trafficking across the sea as examples. The Minister said these incidents undermined the Community’s resolve to foster trade and economic ties and its effective engagement with the rest of the world. She said ECOWAS continued to face also poverty, disease, unemployment and low standard of living whilst its regional integration efforts were still characterized by low political commitment, relatively lower intra-regional trade, cross border harassment and generally weak economies of ECOWAS member states. Ms. Tetteh advised member states to rise beyond obstacles that prevented them from helping ECOWAS to attain economic integration, adding that the hope of transforming their sub-region could not be realized if member states continued to do things the old way. She said ECOWAS should be more creative in its approach to regional integration and be a vehicle for the sub-region to close its infrastructure deficit, raise its competitiveness, diversify its economic base and create enough jobs for its teeming youths and fast-urbanizing populations. Nii Lantey Vanderpuye, the Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, said since 1990 the ECOWAS trade liberation scheme has helped to foster free trade in West Africa. He called for the harmonization of laws and regulations and promotion of free trade among member states, to facilitate economic activities. Nii Vanderpuye said, Ghana was currently establishing joint border post with Togo at Noepe as well as Seme-Krake-Plage (Nigeria-Benin border) and Malanvile (Benin-Niger border) and hoped that it would result in lower transaction cost and faster movement of goods and services. Nii Vanderpuye said with the introduction of the ECOWAS passport, citizens of member states could travel freely to other countries in the sub-region for up to 90 days. Mr. Adjei Mensah, the Deputy Minister for Roads and Highways, said the sector Ministry and its agencies took part in the implementation of road projects and other activities along the trans African Highways, to facilitate trade and the movement of people.