Sekondi, May 23, GNA - Companies registered under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) are now able to circulate their finished products freely without restriction, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, said on Wednesday.
Alhaji Mumuni said the liberation of trade within the sub-region has gone beyond agricultural produce to include industrial products with the adoption of ECOWAS Protocols which concerns the origin of products.
He stated this in an address read for him by Mr. Leslie Christian, Chief Director of the Ministry, at a sensitization workshop on the ECOWAS Integration Process for public sector workers at Sekondi.
The workshop formed part of the activities marking this year's Regional Integration Day.
The Minister said since 1999, the number of private-owned companies registered under the ETLS had risen sharply, from 15 to 266 as at 2009, with products ranging from articles of plastics, fertilizers, vegetables, vegetable oils, plywood, palm oil and baby foods.
Alhaji Mumuni said Ghana is vigorous pursuing the implementation of the ETLS, which provides the opportunities for small and medium enterprises to access the markets of other member states.
He said in the first quarter of this year, 22 Ghanaian products had been given approval to enjoy the benefits under the scheme.
Alhaji Mumuni said Ghana's trade within the ECOWAS stands low at 27 per cent as compared to trade with the European Union, which stood at 47.7 per cent as at the end of 2011.
He said the workshop afforded the chance to encourage companies and industries to form joint venture partnership with other companies in the sub-region to boost trade in the region.
Alhaji Mumuni encouraged companies to take full advantage of the scheme to add value to their various products and participate in the various ECOWAS Trade Fairs despite the bottlenecks which may be encountered.
He said in order to reinforce trade, the ECOWAS Initiative for Export Promotion and Enterprise Competitiveness for Trade (ExPECT) Initiative had been set up with the objective of building a sustainable structure to support export competitiveness by promoting high export potential value chains and increasing exports through engaging the region's private sector, donors, partners and other valuable stakeholders.
"This is aimed at more specifically at supporting Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises through capacity and skills building and empowering them", Alhaji Mumuni said.
He said the ECOWAS Protocols on Free Movement of People, Goods and Services laid at the heart of creating a regional economic community and as a prelude to market integration, ECOWAS had put in place a series of mechanisms aimed at achieving free movement of persons, goods and services throughout West Africa.
Alhaji Mumuni said these include the abolition of Visas and Entry Permits for intra-community travels, the right of residence and establishment and ECOWAS Travel Certificate and ECOWAS passport.
He said ECOWAS had initiated programmes to address some of the challenges that affect trade through the Road and Transport Ministry.
The programme, Alhaji Mumuni said, includes an improvement in Road Transit Corridor programmes such as the West Africa Transport and Transit Facilitation Project from Tema to Paga and the Abidjan-Lagos Trade and Transport Facilitation projects such as the development of the coastal zones from Aflao-Elubo.
Additionally, an Axle Control Strategy has been formulated for implementation to reduce overloading of trucks to the barest minimum while three Joint-Border Posts are to be established on Ghana's borders with its neighbouring countries and construction has already began at the Noepe Joint Border Post with funding from the European Union.
Mr. Paul Evans Aidoo, Western Regional Minister, said there was no doubt that the economic development of the sub-region largely depended on the survival of ECOWAS.
He said in this regard, ECOWAS needed to give much attention to the refugee situation in the sub-region which arises from post election violence that degenerates into civil wars.
Mr. Aidoo said ECOWAS should find an antidote to these wars by insisting on good governance and credible electoral processes adding, "We must also look at our food security and enhance security at our borders."
He said measures should also be put in place to stop environmental degradation and the gradual encroachment of forest resources.