ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET)

The Common External Tariff is one of the instruments of harmonising ECOWAS Member States and strengthening its Common Market. Article 3 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty defines the aims of the community as promoting “co-operation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa ….” In order to achieve this, the community is to ensure, in stages, among other means, the establishment of a common market through “the adoption of a common external tariff and a common trade policy vis-à-vis third countries…” 1 To this end, the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government established an ECOWAS Customs’ Union. A common external tariff with a common nomenclature so that customs procedures are transparent, readily followed and delays at borders decreased, is a key stone in achieving this union. Following this, the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS adopted in January 2006 in Niamey a decision establishing the ECOWAS-CET which draws on the basic UEMOA CET composed of four tariff bands, or rates of customs duty, namely:

CategoriesPercentage of DutiesGoods Description
00%Essential social goods.
15%Goods of primary necessity, raw materials and specific inputs.
210%Intermediate goods.
320%Final Consumption goods.


In the same summit in Niamey, the Heads of States adopted the creation of a joint UEMOA-ECOWAS committee to manage the implementation of the ECOWAS CET. A two-year transition period was given to the Committee to finalize the ECOWAS CET. However, a number of concerns arose which made it difficult to achieve this by the 1st of January 2008.
Nevertheless, significant progress towards the final implementation of the ECOWAS CET has been achieved. The outcome of the ECOWAS-UEMOA Joint Committee can be summarized as follows:

  • Development and validation of 10-digit Regional Tariff and Statistical Nomenclature based on the 2007 version of the World Customs Organization Harmonized System. ;
  • Adoption by the Heads of State Summit of a Supplementary Act on the creation of a fifth band of the ECOWAS CET at 35%2 for “Specific goods for economic development” and adoption of common eligibility criteria among all the ECOWAS Member States for the submission of products to this fifth band.
    Eligibility criteria are as follows: product vulnerability; economic diversification; integration, sector promotion and high potential of production. Drafting a list of products to submit to the fifth band and in that case, retaining some of the product lines in their original category, which were initially proposed to be included in the 5th band:
  • The ongoing classification of the products submitted by the countries within the five bands of the CET.
  • Total number of requests for re-categorization covers approximately 1000 product lines, of which approximately 700 are treated, and approximately 300 remaining.
  • Proposal of the rate of 10% for some imported products “completely knocked down” or unassembled.

Further deliberations would be made in the next joint committee meeting and full adoption of the ECOWAS CET is anticipated by the end of 2011.

1 ECOWAS. Revised Treaty, ECOWAS Executive Secretariat, Abuja, Article 3.

2 A fifth band implies including a new tariff category to cover certain products with the argument of the need to protect infant industries.