Import and export

The regional trade policy is developed along the lines of boosting exports to member states as well as to the rest of the world. Imports into the region are therefore seen as complementary to the exports of goods and services.

External trade of ECOWAS is dominated by a number of products and generates local value added due to the preponderance of fuels coming from extractive industries. These represent three-quarters (75%) of exports (excluding re-exports) and are provided mainly by Nigeria (73%). Cocoa and cocoa food preparations (5% of exports) , precious stones (3%) and secondarily cotton , edible fruit, rubber , plastics , wood and wood products , fish and shellfish (about 1% each), form together with fuel , the major export products of the West African Economic Community.

Europe accounts for about 28% of ECOWAS exports with 23% for the European Union. The Americas account for 40 %, 34 % for the Free Trade Association of North America (NAFTA) 24 involving the United States, Canada and Mexico. Trade openness fostered by the development of South-South trade shows substantial breakthrough of Asian Countries and those of Oceania, capturing 16% of exports, with 0.3% for the near and Middle East. These exports are dominated by Nigeria and Ivory Coast that carry between them, 87% of these transactions. Nigeria provides 77% of regional exports and Côte d’Ivoire 10%. For their part, Ghana and Senegal are placed third and fourth with 4% and 2% respectively. Mali following the traditional leaders with 1.7% of regional exports. Five Countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger and Togo) carry each 1% of regional exports.

 As for regional imports, they are dominated by about ten products. Fuels still hold a leading position in this list. They represent 24% of total imports. They are followed by motor vehicles, tractors, cycles and other vehicles (2nd place), machinery , mechanical appliances and boilers (3rd), machinery and electrical appliances (4th), cereals (5th) , plastics (6th), works in iron, iron and steel (7th), iron, cast iron, steel (8th) , pharmaceuticals (9th) and fish and seafood (10th). As for the exports, Nigeria appears here also in a dominant position by making alone 41% of transactions against 18 % in Ghana, 10% each for Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. Nigeria and Ghana together perform 59 % of the Community imports against 36% for the eight Countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). The other five Countries of the ECOWAS Member States realize only 5 % of the Community imports.

To some extent, trade in Services which ought to promote growth in West Africa is hampered by institutional, regulatory and infrastructural constraints.

 In addition to the lack of visibility and data for the potential of the service sector at the regional level, various other internal and external constraints are undermining its competitiveness. Among the internal constraints are fiscal pressure, development of the informal sector, difficulty of access to credit and inadequacy of the financing mechanisms for the export of services, poor quality of performance (poor compliance with ISO Quality Assurance Standards 9001 2000 Version), energy deficit, lack of transparency and good governance, execution of a substantial part of public contracts by foreign companies in many countries, inadequacy of service infrastructure, high cost of trade transactions (factors of production, administrative bottlenecks), etc.

 Efforts are currently on to ensure that there is no longer a lack of information on foreign markets, obstacles to free movement, mutual recognition of qualifications and diplomas, relatively high costs of the establishment of businesses abroad and the situation of land-locked countries, among others.

VAT & customs

The Value added Tax (VAT) applicable in ECOWAS is placed on goods and services. The purpose of the VAT is to generate tax revenues for the community.

 In realisation of the need to raise funds for the sustenance of the community projects and programmes, ECOWAS established the Community levy. The levy of 0.5 percent tax imposed on goods from non-ECOWAS Member States is also used in financing the activities of the ECOWAS Commission and Community institutions.

 When consistently implemented, the Community levy protocol and mechanism would act as support funds base providing the community with the necessary funds to meet a wide range of financial obligations.

 For the year ending 2014, the Community Levy Management Committee adopted a programme of high level missions to Member States to resolve concerns about the implementation of the Protocol on Community levy in the Member States. Owing to the fact that the issue of non-compliance with the Community Levy Protocol has been a major area of concern, the ECOWAS Commission has continued to point at the right direction-getting every member state to comply with its provisions. The implementation of the Common External Tariff is equally important in this regard.

 A regional Custom system is geared among others towards the improvement of the circulation of goods and services. Although there are sovereignty implications for ceding tariff decisions to a regional body, ECOWAS is determined to forge ahead with the Customs Union.  It is at the same time taking into consideration the fears of potential loss of revenue and impact on domestic industry in member States.

 The implementation of activities under the ECOWAS Customs Union programme has focused on work leading to the implementation of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff with effect from 1st January 2015, (ii) formulation and implementation of a strategy with a view to ensuring better implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme while facilitating the harmonisation of domestic and indirect taxes.



The transformation of the Secretariat into a Commission is being accompanied by a fundamental measure: the adoption of a new legal regime for Community Acts.
Until now obligations of Member States were captured principally in Protocols and Conventions which are subject to lengthy Parliamentary ratification processes. These processes delayed the entry into force of the legal texts thereby paralyzing the integration process. Decisions of the Authority were however immediately applicable and binding on Member States, whilst those emanating from the Council of Ministers were only applicable and binding on the Community Institutions.
Under the new legal regime, the principle of supranational becomes more pre-eminent and there is now a de-emphasis on the adoption of Conventions and Protocols.
Community Acts will be Supplementary Acts, Regulations, Directives, Decisions, Recommendations and Opinion. Thus, the Authority passes Supplementary Acts to complete the Treaty. Supplementary Acts are binding on Member States and the institutions of the Community.
The Council of Ministers enacts Regulations and Directives and makes Decisions and Recommendations. Regulations have general application and all their provisions are enforceable and directly applicable in Member States. They are enforceable in the institutions of the Community. Decisions are enforceable in Member States and all designated therein. Directives and their objectives are binding on all Member States. The modalities for attaining such objectives are left to the discretion of States.
The Commission adopts Rules for the implementation of Acts enacted by the Council. These Rules have the same legal force as Acts enacted by the Council. The Commission makes recommendations and gives advice. Recommendations and advice are not enforceable.


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Treaty is a multilateral agreement signed by the member states that made up the Economic Community of West African States. The initial treaty was signed by the Heads of States and Governments of the then 16 member states in 1975 in Lagos, Nigeria. With new developments and mandates for the Community a revised treaty was signed in Cotonou, the Benin Republic in July 1993 by the heads of states and government of the now 15 member states.

The signing of the revised treaty further bound the sovereign states into agreeing on 93 different Articles, which they have agreed to work together as a single regional economic block. By signing the revised treaty member states reaffirmed the Treaty establishing the Economic Community of West African States signed in Lagos on 28 May 1975 and considered its achievements. The member states were conscious of the overriding need to encourage, foster, and accelerate the economic and social development of member States in order to improve the living standards of the people. Therefore,  the Heads of States and Government were convinced that the promotion of harmonious economic development of the States called for effective economic cooperation and integration largely through a determined and concerted policy of self-reliance they took into consideration the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Declaration of Political Principles of the Economic Community of West African States adopted in Abuja by the Fourteenth Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on 6 July, 1991 and were further convinced that the integration of the Member States into a viable regional Community may demand the partial and gradual pooling of national sovereignties to the Community within the context of a collective political will.

They, therefore, accepted the need to establish Community Institutions vested with relevant and adequate powers, noting that the present bilateral and multilateral forms of economic cooperation within the region open up perspectives for more extensive cooperation. The Heads of States and Government on behalf of their countries accepted the need to face together the political, economic, and socio-cultural challenges of the present and the future, and to pool together the resources of their peoples while respecting their diversities for the most rapid and optimum expansion of the region’s productive capacity. They further took into consideration the Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos of April 1980 stipulating the establishment, by the year 2000, of an African Economic Community based on existing and future regional economic communities and was mindful of the Treaty establishing the African Economic Community signed in Abuja on 3 June 1991.

They then affirmed that the final goal is the accelerated and sustained economic development of Member States, culminating in the economic union of West Africa, similarly, they took note of their earlier decision relating to the establishment of a Committee of Eminent Persons to submit proposals for the review of the Treaty, which arose from the need for the Community to adapt to the changes on the international scene in order to derive greater benefits from those changes and considering also the need to modify the Community’s strategies in order to accelerate the economic integration process in the region, as well as the need to share the benefits of economic co-operation and integration among the Member States in a just and equitable manner.

The fifteen member states then decided to revise the Treaty of 28 May 1975 establishing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and have accordingly agreed to a Revised Treaty of 24th July 1993.