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The ECOWAS Trade Agreement – Promoting Economic Health in West Africa



The Western mindset of Africa is likely filled with visions of poverty, primitive resources, and political unrest. Indeed, much of what we see in the news on Africa tends to perpetuate these general opinions, though it is unfair to place all African countries in the same category. While not the wealthiest region in the world in terms of GDP and trade, certain blocs of Africa have worked to improve trade relations with their neighbors and promote growing industries in energy, telecommunications, and commerce. The countries of West Africa, through nearly forty years of alliance, are such an example of progress within the continent.

The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has beginnings in the Treaty of Lagos, ratified in 1975 for the purpose of promoting economic development in West Africa. In addition to maintaining strong trade relations between member nations, ECOWAS assists in matters involving civil peacekeeping. Policies are put forth by the ECOWAS Secretariat and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development, or EBID, which recently appointed Bashir M. Ifo their newest president. Over the last decade, EBID has entered into loan agreements with various companies and international banks in order to improve industry in West Africa. A significant agreement finalized in 2010, for one, has allowed for the financing of a pharmaceutical factory in the region and consequent production and research of resources designed to improve health conditions in the area.




The lineup has changed little over the last thirty-seven years. Of the fifteen nations currently in ECOWAS, the members include:

  • Benin - A largely agricultural country, Benin produces one major crop (cotton) that accounts for the majority of their export trade. Primary trade partners include China, India, and Niger.

  • Burkina Faso - This nation represents one of the lowest gross domestic product percentages in Africa, if not the world. Like other countries in the region, Burkina Faso is agricultural - growing corn and sorghum among other crops - but also employs natives for copper and iron mining.

  • Cape Verde - The only islandic member nation of ECOWAS imports nearly all of its food, except for seafood. Once a colony of Portugal, Cape Verde maintains strong trade ties to the country as well as Spain.

  • Ivory Coast - As one of the top exporting African nations, Côte d'Ivoire is a top exporter of cocoa and coffee, bananas and pineapples, and other agricultural goods.

  • Gambia - Gambia is known for their peanut production and fishing industries, and is also one of the more popular tourist destinations in West Africa.

  • Ghana - Ghana is one of the continents more developed nations, with a healthy GDP that keeps the country economically above water. Gold and cocoa are among two of their more popular exports, traded to the Netherlands, the United States, and the Ukraine.

  • Guinea - Guinea maintains active mining and agricultural industries, with major exports like gold and minerals, and coffee traded to South Korea, Russia, and Spain.

  • Guinea-Bissau - One of the least developed nations in Africa, Guinea-Bissau averages around $50 million in export goods. They are known for ground nut crops and export more than half of their goods to India.

  • Liberia - Historically known as a nation founded by freed slaves, Liberia boasts a timber industry that partly contributes to their annual average export totals of $2 billion.

  • Mali - One of Africa's underdeveloped nations, Mali relies heavily on foreign aid but does manage to export cotton and gold to their main trade partners in Asia.

  • Niger - Niger is known for export of raw minerals - in particular uranium - to foreign markets. Japan receives the majority of their output.

  • Nigeria - One of the Next Eleven economies, Nigeria's growth is evident in rising exports to the United States and Europe - petroleum, cocoa and rubber among other products.

  • Senegal - Like many neighboring countries in ECOWAS, Senegal maintains agricultural and seafood industries that produce ground nuts and fish to trade partners.

  • Sierra Leone - Mining is one of the more profitable industries in this underdeveloped nation.

  • Togo - Togo is unique within ECOWAS in that it serves as a commerce hub for neighboring nations. Goods that come into Togo are often re-exported throughout West Africa, though the country also produces coffee and cocoa to trade.

Of the above, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo are founding members of UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union), a pro-trade agreement signed to complement ECOWAS.  

Future projects for ECOWAS include a better streamlined method for trade relations within the borders of member nations - improved transport by rail and a common currency dubbed Eco are among the proposals the ECOWAS nations hope to see in the next decade. With recent loan agreements in place through relations with India and companies like DO PHARMA, one can see the potential in raising the overall GDP for the region once such improvements are in place.


Published Jan 05 2012, 06:29 PM by admin
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January 5, 2012 10:49 AM