The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in collaboration with the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), convened, on Monday 6 December 2021, a virtual meeting of sectoral ministers in the context of the imminent reopening of land borders in the ECOWAS region. It was one of the decisions made during the 59th Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS.
Beyond the impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the current COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions in demand and supply as well as investments in key economic sectors. Indeed, the tertiary (services) and primary (agriculture) sectors experienced considerable decline on account of restrictions on travel and movement due to the closure of borders, disrupting supply chains and market access for small and medium scale businesses.
In addition to the closure of borders on account of the COVID 19 pandemic, Member States facing security crisis had also tightened security checkpoints within and at the borders of their respective countries. The resulting consequence on the economy was a cumulated decline by 6.7% of GDP of ECOWAS countries between 2020 and 2021 (or approximately 50 billion US dollars).
In his address at the opening session, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr Tei KONZI, commended the huge participation of ministers and experts from the member countries of the regional organisation. “It attests to your concern for the mobility of our fellow citizens and their goods, as well as the economic recovery of our region” he opined.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 in West Africa adversely impacted the volume of trade and mobility of persons. The hasty closure of borders in a bid to tackle the pandemic suspended the implementation of community integration texts on the free movement of persons and goods, Commissioner Konzi highlighted, adding that the reopening of borders for economic recovery has now become a fundamental issue.
During the deliberations, co-chaired by Mrs Clarisse Mérindol Ouoba, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, responsible for African Integration and Burkinabes Abroad, the sectoral ministers shared the challenges and lessons learned from the two years in which the borders had been closed to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in West Africa. The exchange was with a view to map out the imminent reopening of the borders.
The ministers further assessed the relevant regional priorities, technical options, and accompanying measures for the reopening of borders that integrate the safety of human lives. They, thereafter, adopted (i) the draft standard procedure for the continuity of border operations in the event of any incident, and (ii) procedures for cooperation and synergy at various levels.
At the end of their deliberations, the ministers recommended an effective implementation by Member States of the harmonised directives of ECOWAS against COVID-19, mutual recognition of PCR tests at the borders and harmonisation of their validity period. They further proposed 1st January 2022 for the reopening of borders.
The report and recommendations of the meeting will be presented to the ECOWAS Council of Ministers, scheduled for 9th and 10th December in Abuja, and subsequently submitted to the Heads of State and Government for adoption.
It is worth noting that more than fifty participants were registered for the meeting, including ECOWAS sectoral ministers in charge of the Ministries of Interior, Health, Finance, Trade and Transport, alongside their experts. The participants also included ECOWAS Commission Directors in charge of Free Movement, Mr Albert Siaw Boateng, Trade, Mr Kolawole Sofola, Private Sector, Mr Tony Luka and experts from the Department of Infrastructure, delegates of the Permanent Representation of Member States to ECOWAS and of the ECOWAS National Offices in the Member States, as well as partners.