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ECOWAS member states have proposed January 1, next year for the reopening of all land borders.
ECOWAS sectoral ministers, in collaboration with the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), took the decision at a virtual meeting coordinated from Abuja, Nigeria, yesterday.
Among the factors informing the decision, the ministers took into consideration the fact that their economies lost $50 billion in value or 6.7 per cent of their cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 2020 and 2021.
The report and recommendations of the meeting will be presented to the ECOWAS Council of Ministers meeting, scheduled for Abuja, Nigeria, tomorrow and Friday and subsequently submitted to the Heads of State and Government, the highest decision-making body, for adoption.
A communique issued by ECOWAS after the meeting said more than 50 people took part in the meeting, including ECOWAS sectoral ministers in charge of the 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 of ECOWAS and of the ECOWAS National Offices in the Member States, as well as partners, also took part in the deliberations.
The ministers also recommended the effective implementation by member states of the harmonised directives of ECOWAS against the COVID-19.
They also urged member states to ensure mutual recognition of PCR tests at the borders and the harmonisation of their validity period.
The ECOWAS sectoral ministers meeting on the upcoming reopening of land borders was one of the decisions taken during the 59th Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS in Accra a couple of months ago.
Beyond the impact on GDP, the data indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic also 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,” the communique said.
In addition to the closure of borders on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the member states faced security crisis and 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 per cent of GDP of ECOWAS countries between 2020 and 2021 (or approximately $50 billion),” it said.
Speaking at the opening session last Monday, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr Tei Konzi, commended the huge participation of ministers and experts from 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,” the communique quoted him as saying.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 in West Africa in 2020 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 had now become a fundamental issue.
During the deliberations, co-chaired by the Burkinabe Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs responsible for African Integration and Burkinabes Abroad, Mrs Clarisse Mérindol Ouoba, 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 mapping out the intended reopening of the borders.
The ministers further assessed the relevant regional priorities, technical options and accompanying measures for the reopening of borders that integrated the safety of human lives.
They, thereafter, adopted the draft standard procedure for the continuity of border operations in the event of any incident and procedures for cooperation and synergy at various levels.