The Common External Tariff (CET) is designed to harmonize customs charges on imported goods to the bloc of some 300 million people.
“This is an objective ECOWAS has pursued since its creation 38 years ago and today we have crossed an important stage in the integration of our people,” President of the ECOWAS commission, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said.
The eight-nation Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA), whose members form part of ECOWAS – already has a single-tariff scheme and a shared currency.
ECOWAS members are Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the members of UEMOA – Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Niger and Togo. ECOWAS aims to introduce a single currency throughout the bloc by 2020.
The summit also approved the introduction of a 1.5 percent levy to finance the activities of the community, to replace an existing 0.5 percent tax, which leaders agreed would be phased in over five years.
Ouedraogo said the introduction of a single tariff regime would kick-start stalled negotiations with the European Union on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The European Union is West Africa’s largest trade partner.
The talks had broken down over the speed at which West African nations were willing to open their market and lift tariff barriers. The two sides were also at odds over an ECOWAS request for compensation for the cost of adjustment to the new trade regime.