By Foster Obi
Resolved to strengthen capacity among member states to respond to the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual meeting of Heads of National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) in ECOWAS held on the 26th of June, 2020 to share experiences on measures taken to facilitate the movement of essential goods required in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen the role of the NTFC to coordinate and monitor implementation of national and regional responses.
A statement by ECOWAS said the meeting convened at a time when many countries had closed their borders in order to control the spread of the COVID-19, when trade facilitation was identified as a key tool to minimise the disruption to global and regional supply chains, which are essential to ensuring food security as well as the supply of medical products needed to fight the pandemic.
“At the conclusion of the meeting, the Heads of NTFCs, made a number of recommendations to strengthen the capacity of NTFCs in order to take the lead role in coordination and monitoring of the proposed guidelines by Trade & Transport Ministerial Coordination Committee on the fight against COVID-19.
“In addition to sharing regional and national experiences, they called for the accelerated establishment of the Regional Trade Facilitation Committee (RTFC). The RTFC is aimed at enhancing the coordination and monitoring of all international, regional and national trade facilitation initiatives.
“Participants at the meeting, which was chaired by Director of Regulation and International Relations at the General Directorate of Customs, of the Republic of Niger Elhaj Ousmane Mahamane, also called for the promotion of intra-regional trade.
“Declaring the meeting opened, earlier, the ECOWAS Commission’s Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr. Konzi Tei stated among others, the Commission’s belief that the NTFC is well positioned to play the critical role in ensuring that the trade recovery and resilience needs for the Community, are met.
“The presentation by the ECOWAS Commission during the meeting provided an update on the regional COVID-19 epidemiology situation, impact on Transport, Trade, Customs and Free Movement of Persons. The proposed guidelines for a harmonised and gradual opening by Ministers of Transport and Trade were also presented.
“Already at the regional level, the ECOWAS Heads of State & Government had on the 23rd of April 2020, appointed the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, H.E Muhammadu Buhari, as the regional champion on COVID-19, with the support of three Ministerial Committees on Health, Finance and Transport & Trade,” the statement noted.
At the national levels, measures taken by Member States during the pandemic, included closure of land borders and airports, establishment of high level COVID-19 response committees, regular inter-agency coordination and collaboration, simplifying procedures, reducing time to clear, as well as temporary duty relief for essential goods.
Besides the Heads of NTFCs, represented by Ministries responsible for Trade and Customs Administrations, participants in the meeting included representatives of the relevant ECOWAS Commission’s Directorates and the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), as well as partners such as Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), World Bank, the United Nations Conference and Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Commission of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).