Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 June 2020:
West African nations are beginning to assess whether it is time to re-open their borders for trade and free movement of people. Since the first case of coronavirus was announced in the region three months ago, there have been debates about the impact the global pandemic is having on the regional economy as well as the economy of respective member States.
Writing in a statement published last week – 17th June 2020, the ECOWAS Ministerial Coordination Committee on Transport, Logistics and Trade made key recommendations on the harmonization and gradual re-opening of land, air and sea borders for restoring cross border economic activities, especially the movement of humanitarian personnel, medical supplies and equipment and essential goods in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those recommendations will be discussed at the next Summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government.
The ECOWAS Ministerial Coordination Committee Ministers discussed and agreed practical measures based on the report of the regional experts, as well as the draft Guidelines for the Harmonization and Facilitation of Cross Border Trade & Transport in the ECOWAS Region on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Post-Recovery Actions.
The ECOWAS Ministerial Coordination Committee 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. They also called for appropriate fiscal measures to be put in place by respective governments to support the effective implementation of the guidelines.
According to the report, the opening of the borders must be based on the proposed guidelines for the mitigation of health risks and the harmonization and facilitation of cross-border trade and transport in the ECOWAS region in the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need to reopen borders, sea and airports they said is driven by the urge to begin to revive the economies of ECOWAS member countries.
The Ministers recommended a three-phased approach, 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.
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.
ECOWAS ministers called for 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.
Owing to the need to ensure an effective coordination mechanism to follow-up implementation of the guidelines at both national and regional levels, the Ministers called for the use of existing State or regional structures and committees responsible for ensuring the proper application of the protocols on free movement on Community corridors and borders of national and regional trade.
The Ministerial Coordinating Committee, chaired by Nigeria’s Aviation Minister Senator Hadi Sirika, made a plea for “strong and determined support for the ownership and implementation of the guidelines” once adopted by the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government.