By Kebba AF Touray

The 4th meeting of the Director Generals of ECOWAS member states on the consolidation of the ECOWAS Customs Union, recently wrapped up in Abuja, the Federal republic of Nigeria.

The meeting started from 29th October to 4th November 2018, and was organized under the auspices of the ECOWAS Commission and attended by 14 West African countries including the Gambia.

The Gambia was represented by Alagie K. Mbye, the Customs Manager in charge of seaport operations on behalf of the Commissioner General of the Gambia Revenue Authority GRA, who at the time of the meeting, was on special official engagement out of the country.

The meeting on the state of the ECOWAS Customs Union was under the theme:- ‘‘Information exchange and cooperation between customs administrations as a concerted response to the obstacle to the free movement of goods, security challenges and resurgence of illicit trafficking.

The meeting provided the ECOWAS Commission the opportunity to present ongoing projects and seek the validation of new draft texts on Customs and tax issues that will contribute to the consolidation of the Customs Union in West Africa.

The 4th meeting of the Director Generals proceeded by the meeting of experts of the joint ECOWAS UEMOA Customs Union and was attended by Kodou Jones Ogoh, the Customs Officer and Tariff and Classification Unit of the GRA.

However, after days of deliberation on the said agenda, the report was submitted by the experts, and the DGs adopted it after being reviewed for submission to the Ministers of Finance, for consideration.

During the meeting, the Directors deliberated on various topics; thus presentation of the ECOWAS  Customs Union, presentation of the application for the automated management of transit goods in the ECOWAS region (interconnectivity), presentation of the draft supplementary Act, the laying down of community rules of origin and procedures applicable to goods originating in the ECOWAS region.

The 4th meeting entails mutual assistance in customs matters, community rules of origin, elimination of double taxation and mutual administration assistance in tax matters, with respect to income capital and inheritance, trafficking systems of tobacco and legal framework for tax verification systems (imports with ECOWAS), change of category on free movement and exchange of category and duty relief. According to the report, the above agenda was treated in detail, and recommendations forwarded to the Directors by the experts for adoption.

In delivering his message at the official opening ceremony, the Nigerian Minister of Finance, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, welcomed the delegates. She expressed the hope that the outcome of the meeting will further deepen the ECOWAS Customs Union.

She told participants that the meeting would be presented with a number of instruments aimed at consolidating the Customs Union and advancing for some associated fiscal matters. She called on them to harness the positives in their various country experiences and approve the instruments.

She enjoined them to consider the matters before them, for the regional interest and good. She expressed the hope that the outcome of the meeting will significantly enhance regional customs integration and fiscal cooperation, in a manner that would improve trade, curtail tax malpractices, while increasing national revenues. In her closing remarks, she pledge that Nigeria will continue to support the ECOWAS integration process.

Halima Ahmed who represented the president of the ECOWAS Commission H.E Jean Claude Kassi Brou, reminded participants of the commitment of the region to a process of integration and cooperation. She commended the unshakeable conviction and determination of the ECOWAS authority of heads of States and Governments to make regional integration a potent, viable and appropriate tool for accelerating and achieving sustainable development in the region.

Recommendations which emerged from the meeting include the timely remittance of community levy into the ECOWAS account maintained at various member states.

The meeting approved the draft supplementary Act, subject to the Commission rephrasing Article 26 to remove any ambiguity, to the effect that Companies who already benefit from preference under the criteria set by the old protocol, do not lose it under the new supplementary Act. The meeting invited the Commission to ensure that the provision of subsequent implementing regulations, address the specific concerns raised during the current meetings.

The closing ceremony was punctuated by two speeches. The first address was delivered by the Commissioner for trade, customs and free movement M. Tei Konzi and Mr. Jalloud Hamat, deputy Minister for Budget of Niger Republic, who gave the second address on behalf of his Minister.

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