Identifying intraregional trade potential in West Africa
ECOWAS Commission and International Trade Centre set to bring sustainable development to region through market intelligence tools and small business support.
Trade integration and competitiveness in West Africa are below their potential. According to the World Economic Forum, ECOWAS member states rank among the least competitive countries worldwide. The International Trade Centre (ITC) estimates that over $2 billion in intraregional trade potential remain to be explored over the next years, subject to investments and removing market frictions.
With recent crises causing disruptions in global value chains, regional development initiatives have gained traction. The ECOWAS Commission and the International Trade Centre invited more than 60 government officials from across the region to a High-Level Stakeholder Meeting on May 16-17, 2023 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to introduce two EU-sponsored projects – the African Trade Observatory and the West African Competitiveness Observatory that are set to bring the region on a sustainable development path through trade information tools, capacity building and business support.
The African Trade Observatory is one of the five instruments for a successful African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), led by the African Union. Based on timely and reliable data, the online tool lets policymakers and firms across Africa identify, compare and monitor trade opportunities emerging from regional integration and the AfCFTA. The three modules (Compare, Explore, Monitor) equip African businesses with trade intelligence on trends, opportunities, and market access conditions, while offering trade-related indicators as well as enabling policymakers and government officials to monitor regional trade integration and the impact of the AfCFTA on their economies. Ultimately, the African Trade Observatory helps to enhance the coverage and quality of trade data in Africa.
The West African Competitiveness Observatory, designed under the West Africa Competitiveness Programme (WACOMP), enables policymakers and businesses to make informed decisions and take strategic action for better competitiveness and regional integration. As the first of its kind, it builds upon the data collected by the African Trade Observatory. In addition, its competitiveness module draws on data from complementary sources for comprehensive information on West Africa's competitiveness performance and drivers. Its regional value chain module also offers details on regional value chains, including information on products, partners, and markets. Lastly, its business matchmaking module facilitates connections between companies across the region to strengthen West African value chains and promote regional trade.
Speaking ahead of the event, the Acting Director of Trade of ECOWAS, Kolawole Sofola, said: “As we work to strengthen West African value chains and foster regional and continental integration, these tools will provide invaluable insights and support to policymakers and businesses in the region. We are delighted to partner with the International Trade Centre on this initiative, which we believe has the potential to transform the way we do business in West Africa.”
Mondher Mimouni, Chief of the Trade and Market Intelligence section of ITC added: “As ECOWAS and ITC continue to work towards promoting trade and competitiveness in West Africa, we are excited to share these important resources with our esteemed stakeholders. The African Trade Observatory and the West African Competitiveness Observatory will go a long way in enhancing trade and competitiveness in West Africa for data-driven decision making.”
The EU Delegation to Côte d’Ivoire Team Leader for Economic and Trade Cooperation, Stephane Bossard, stated that: “We believe that a strong and vibrant private sector is a key driver of economic growth, job creation, and poverty reduction. Therefore, we have made it a priority to provide targeted support to both West African countries and the private sector through the WACOMP programme.”
The West Africa Competitiveness Programme (WACOMP) aims to support selected value chains at national and regional level to promote structural transformation and better access to regional and international markets, while taking into account social and environmental concerns. Its overall objective is to strengthen competitiveness of West African countries and enhance their integration into the regional and international trading system.