Capacity building with ECOWAS

Other Projects


Timeline: 2016

Donors: Trade Advocacy Fund, UK (TAF)

Beneficiaries: ECOWAS Members : Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo

ECOWAS envisions progressing from a free trade area to a full customs union, and eventually a common market, to foster trade in the region.  In a bid to attaining its goals, it concluded, in January 2015, negotiations on the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) with full implementation being premiered by Ghana in February 2016. Asides regional negotiations, ECOWAS is in the preparatory phase for negotiations for an Africa wide Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) being championed by the African Union Commission and has been conducting negotiations on the West Africa – European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). As these Agreements include other members of the WTO, there is need for a full understanding of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism with which action could be taken should the need arise.  A key factor that hinders the full integration of West African economies into the global trading system is the limited capacity possessed by West African trade negotiators and policy officials in international trade law and WTO dispute settlement procedures. Furthermore, across the 15 member states of ECOWAS, legal advice and training in international trade law is not always easily accessible.

Consequently, ECOWAS member states would typically seek recourse to private law firms in developed countries to prepare and argue their cases before the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). For a region that includes 11 LDCs this is costly, and also accounts in part for the low rate of participation by West African countries in dispute settlement cases brought before the WTO and other international bodies.

A major source of WTO advice for developing countries is the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL), based in Geneva, whose members include developed and developing countries that have participated in WTO dispute proceedings. LDCs which are members of the WTO are entitled to ACWL services and advice free of charge, but developing countries which are not members in their own right are not so entitled. In the case of the 15 ECOWAS Member States, this implies that the four Developing economies Cape Verde, Nigeria, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire are unable to access ACWL services free of charge. However, under a recent TAF grant to the ACWL covering ascension fees to enable selected Developing countries access its services, these 4 countries are capable of completing their Accession process and access the services of the ACWL by taking advantage of this grant. There is need therefore, to sensitize Member States of these services available to them on the one hand and to maximise the accrued benefits by providing the know-how under WTO Dispute Settlement to ensure maximum benefits. A workshop covering WTO Dispute Settlement and access to advice on WTO Law is therefore being convened for the ECOWAS Commission.

“A major source of WTO advice for developing countries is the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL), based in Geneva, whose members include developed and developing countries that have participated in WTO dispute proceedings.”

IDEAS Centre has been invited to participate and lead a three-day workshop on WTO dispute resolution seeks to build capacity within ECOWAS on how to identify and resolve trade concerns that affect ECOWAS Member States in the context of the WTO legal system. The workshop sought to emphasise the concept of international trade disputes as an important trade policy tool through presentations on the WTO dispute settlement system, paying particular attention to the experiences of developing countries (and on one instance, an LDC). Moreover, the workshop introduced the services of the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL) to ECOWAS Member States. The ACWL is an independent international organization in Geneva whose mandate is to assist developing and least-developed countries to defend their legal interests in the WTO legal system.

While conscious of the delegates’ varying backgrounds in WTO law and the WTO dispute settlement system in particular, the workshop sought to raise awareness and knowledge of the WTO’s dispute settlement system in an accessible and interactive manner. In addition to various presentations, the workshop had to make ample use of practical exercises enabling delegates to grasp the basic concepts of the WTO dispute settlement system, how other countries use it, as well as to identify market access or discriminatory measures in foreign markets so that they can better intervene to assist their domestic exporters.