In line with its objective of promoting cooperation and integration and as one step towards the creation of a common market which, according to the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, should be established, among others, through “the liberalisation of trade by the abolition, among Member States, of customs duties levied on imports and exports, and the abolition among Member States, of non-tariff barriers in order to establish a free trade area at the Community Level“1 ECOWAS adopted the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme. This was first implemented in 1979 with only agricultural products, handicrafts and crude products being allowed to benefit from the scheme. In 1990, however, it opened up to include industrial products.
Given the evolution of international trade and the adoption by the World Trade Organization (which most ECOWAS Member States are members of) of a new agreement on rules of origin, it was deemed necessary to comply with these rules. As a result, ECOWAS and UEMOA adopted the same origin criteria. The ECOWAS protocol A/P1/1/03 of 31st January 2003 defines the concept of originating products and origin criteria applicable for the free circulation of industrial goods.
The Council of Ministers adopted the Regulation: REG./3/4/02 of 23rd April 2002, which presented new procedure in order to ease the process for approval of industrial products.
This new procedure led to the creation in each Member State of a National Approvals Committee (NAC), responsible for examining applications for approval of products.
The first step in the process is for NAC’s to approve companies and products that meet the originating product criteria. The second step is for the Member States’ to communicate these to the ECOWAS Commission. The third step requires the ECOWAS Commission to notify all Member States of the approved companies and products. As a result, the approved products can be exported freely within the region.
More information on the ETLS is provided in its website: www.etls.ecowas.int
1 ECOWAS. Revised Treaty, ECOWAS Executive Secretariat, Abuja, Article 3.