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ECOWAS Investment Forum: WTO Director General champions AfCFTA to boost regional integration

Accra, April 8, GNA – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Director General, World Trade Organization (WTO), has urged African countries to strengthen regional integration through the transformative potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

She said with evolving global trade dynamics, AfCFTA was significant as a catalyst for economic growth and development across Africa through regional trade.

Dr Iweala was speaking virtually at the 2024 ECOWAS Investment Forum (EIF) which took place in Lome, Togo, on April 4th and 5th 2024 in Lome, Togo on the theme: “Transforming ECOWAS Communities in a Challenging Environment.”

This year’s forum focused on stimulating economic growth, creating sustainable jobs, and building resilience in the face of global challenges.

To promote investment opportunities in key sectors of the ECOWAS member states, stimulate economic growth, create sustainable jobs, and build resilience in the face of global challenges such as food security, infrastructure development, and climate change, the EIF 2024 had over 700 participants joining physically and some 400 others joining remotely.

The participants, including representatives from various ECOWAS member states, officials from the ECOWAS Commission, industry experts, managing directors and CEOs of financial institutions, said to unlock Africa’s full potential, there was the need to address the glaring deficit in infrastructure through robust resource mobilisation strategies.

Dr Okonjo Iweala said to boost investments, African countries needed to consider demographics, driven by youth as the workforce and the market of the

future while enhancing regional integration through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and growing the importance of commercial services digitally.

She said AfCFTA represented a historic milestone in Africa’s quest for greater integration and economic empowerment.

The WTO Director General said West Africa and the African continent continued to attract investors through trade to stimulate economic growth and create employment.

According to her, despite challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, international trade had rebounded and progressed steadily.

She said in the last quarter of 2023, the volume of goods exchanged was 6.3 per cent higher than the peak reached before the pandemic in the third quarter of 2019, and 19.1 per cent higher than the 2015 average.

Commercial services trade, she noted, grew by 21 per cent in US dollar value from 2019 to 2023.

“To continue development despite various challenges, the strategy has been to decentralize and diversify supply chains. At the WTO, we refer to this process as ‘reglobalisation’ with the aim of bringing more regions out of marginality into the global arena, while stimulating job creation,” she said.

She explained that ECOWAS countries accounted for 0.7 per cent of global trade, mainly focused on exporting raw materials, while Africa accounted for three per cent of global trade.

To achieve globalization, Dr Iweala suggested that governments must work on reducing commercial costs within ECOWAS and improving physical and digital infrastructure.

She said, “Customs duty codes have been improved, facilitating the movement of goods at borders. Processes have been modernized with electronic tools and the digitization of other procedures. »

The Director General said the Investment Facilitation Agreement for Development, finalized by 166 members at our 13th ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, could facilitate access to long-term financing by streamlining approval processes and avoiding bureaucratic obstacles.

“With ECOWAS facing an investment deficit of around $12 million, this agreement is welcome. Thirteen out of fifteen members have signed, and we hope the remaining two will follow suit.,” she stated.

Other projects are underway, such as collaboration between the WTO and local banks to facilitate digital access for businesses, especially women-led projects (particularly in exports). The digital economy presents an opportunity to seize,” Dr Iweala said.

Mr Yao Kouassi, Managing Director, Vista Bank, said West Africa stood out as one of the most promising and attractive markets for investors due to numerous untapped sectors with vast potential for innovation, such as renewable energy.

He said with Africa currently representing 16 per cent of the global population and projected to reach 25 per cent by 2050, there was significant opportunity to tap into a skilled workforce and create new avenues for growth.