Harmonised Standards key to ECOWAS Common Market – Trade Minister

By Fatoumatta K. Jallow

“Harmonized standards for the region for the essential goods and services are key to the smooth realisation of a common market and it is a well-known fact that regions that have succeeded in harmonizing their standards have derived many benefits from that undertaking,” said Mr. Abdou Jobe, Minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment.

The trade minister said this in his opening statement on Tuesday, 1 November 2016, at the three day meeting organised by The Gambia Standards Bureau (TGSB), in collaboration with the ECOWAS Commission, to put in place a system of harmonization of standards on tourism and related issues among member states.

According to the organisers, the meeting is to ensure that there are no specific standards for individual member states, but a single and common standard for each goods or services exchanged.

Minister Jobe said the regional harmonization of standards means that the entire region benefits from trade facilitation which derives from it, through lower costs and transit time for producers, exporters and traders.

He added that the consumer market also lowers the cost of production by not requiring different lines of products to conform to different standards required by different countries.

The trade minister described the steps taken by ECOWAS to harmonize standards in key products, services and sectors across the region as timely as they are only few years before Vision 2020 timeline to this end.

“Over the years, we have undertaken significant policy initiatives and interventions among these may be cited the development of a national trade policy, industrial policy, investment policy, micro, small and medium enterprise policy and the national quality policy,” said the trade minister.

Mr. Jobe said the National Quality Policy which was approved since 2014 is being fully aligned with the ECOWAS Quality Policy.

Trade minister Jobe highlighted the common objectives of ECOWAS for a common market, adding that the role that the harmonised standards and conformity assessment requirements play cannot be overemphasized.

Speaking earlier, Mr. Papa Secka, Director General of TGSB, said ECOWAS is doing a lot of work and contributing towards its own objective of achieving world market in the long term.

“In this regard a lot has been achieved but there have been persistence challenges that remain, mainly in the economic integration and the one market they desired to have. It is noted that the contribution of manufacturing and industry to the overall GDB of ECOWAS still remains at less than 10%, exactly 7%,” he said.

He explained that inter trade between ECOWAS members within ECOWAS is at 12% and needs to be enhanced now. He added that the output or export of ECOWAS to international trade only stands at 0.1%. These, he continued, are formidable challenges that need to be improved if they are to achieve anything in terms of the common objective they desired.

“In conclusion, it has been realised that one of the main impediment huddles to achieve this objective is lack of harmonized standards and conformity assessment system which means manufacturing companies are not productive because they have to comply to a lot of standards being applied by different countries in order to sell their products,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Mensan Lawson Hechelli, the Director of Industry, ECOWAS Commission, in his remarks, said they are now targeting the tourism sector to see how best to improve it. He commended the Standards Bureau for the work they are doing.

Sheikh Ahmad Tejan Nyang, Chairman of the  ECOMHAM Technical Harmonization Committee (THC6), said the Gambia is one of the leading tourism destinations in the sub-region and has over the years developed and implemented a number of sustainable projects all geared towards the improvement of the livelihood of its people.

“This sector contributes between 18 to 20% of our GDP, creates both direct and indirect employment and the sectors linkages with other sectors creates added value to its benefits. The Gambia, over the years, built up her human resource base in the tourism sector up to extent that it is now exporting highly qualified and skilled personnel to both the sub- and the Middle East,” he said.

He said the THC6 committee is to consider in these coming days the review of comments and observations collected at the public enquiry stage on the following documents, namely the criteria for grading the formal catering establishments, criteria for grading the informal catering and drinking establishments, standards for rating of hotels and service accommodations, standards of sustainable tourism and the consideration of the 2017 work plan.