Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
After months of lockdown of the regional borders occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Ministerial Coordination Committee on Transport, Logistics and Trade, has recommended the gradual re-opening of land, air and sea borders in the West African region.
This, the committee said, will assist in restoring cross border economic activities, especially the movement of humanitarian personnel, medical supplies and equipment, including essential goods in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Communications Division of the ECOWAS Commission, disclosed the development in a statement issued in Abuja.
The ECOWAS Commission said the recommendation was based on health data on the evolution of the pandemic, even as it said the ministers made case for the appropriate fiscal measures by regional governments to support the effective implementation of the guidelines.
The ECOWAS Commission further said the recommendations were adopted for submission to the Co-Chairpersons of the ad-hoc Ministerial Committee, the Nigerian Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika and the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou for onward submission to President Muhammadu Buhari who is the champion of the regional COVID-19 response.
Buhari, the commission added, will in turn present the recommendation to the Summit of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government.
“The Ministers discussed and agreed on practical modalities based on the report of the regional experts meeting held virtually on 8th and 10th June, 2020, as well as the draft Guidelines for the Harmonization and Facilitation of Cross Border Trade and Transport in the ECOWAS Region on the COVID-19 Pandemic and Related Post-Recovery Actions.
“After their deliberations which took place on the 12th and 16th of June, 2020, the ministers recommended a gradual and coordinated opening of land borders and airports of ECOWAS member states based on health data on the evolution of the pandemic and called for the appropriate fiscal measures by governments to support the effective implementation of the guidelines,” the ECOWAS Commission said.
Aside ministers from member states, the ministerial meeting was attended by the ECOWAS Commission’s Commissioner for Infrastructure, Mr. Pathé Gueye and the ECOWAS Commission’s Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr. Konzi Tei, the Director General of the West African Health Organization (WAHO), Professor Stanley Okolo, and the Commissioner, Community Spatial Planning and Transport, the Commission of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Mr. Paul Koffi Koffi.
The commission further said the re-opening of the borders shall draw strength from the proposed guidelines for the mitigation of health risks and the harmonization and facilitation of cross-border trade and transport in the ECOWAS region.
It also said the re-opening will be hinged on the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to a coordinated and progressive opening of air, land and maritime borders.
“They also held that the re-opening has become imperative in view of the need to revive the economies of ECOWAS member countries.
“The ministers recommended a three-phased approach to the opening of land and air borders beginning with local internal domestic air and land transport within ECOWAS member states, then a second phase which involves the opening of land and air borders between ECOWAS member states to allow the free movement of goods and persons on the basis of strict application of the proposed guidelines for the harmonization and facilitation of cross-border trade and transport in the ECOWAS region.
“Following a review of the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic in respective member states, a third phase of opening air and land borders to other countries with low and controlled levels (according to WHO classifications) of COVID-19 contamination rates will be pursued.
“The ministers further called for accurate information sharing on opening-up measures among member states in the spirit of solidarity, collective self-reliance and inter-state co-operation through bilateral and multilateral consultations. They also called for the need to ensure speedy and safer clearance of transit goods at the borders and minimize physical contact in customs, cross-border trade transactions through the rapid deployment of the new ECOWAS Interconnected Goods and Transit Management System popularly termed SIGMAT.
“They also urged the provision of such information to private sector actors namely shipping lines, airlines, cross-border transporters and traders, media and civil society, while ensuring strong collaboration at borders among control agencies for the establishment of arrangements to control travelers regarding the COVID-19,” the ECOWAS Commission also said.
The ECOWAS Commission further said the Ministerial Coordinating Committee, chaired by Sirika, appealed for a strong and determined support for the ownership and implementation of the guidelines once adopted by the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government.