>From Kwasi Kpodo, GNA Special Correspondent, Niamey.
Niamey, Jan 11, GNA -- The Council of Ministers of ECOWAS has endorsed proposals for the establishment of a West Africa airline to improve intra-regional air travel and bolster integration and trade in the sub-region, officials of the regional grouping said.
The airline would be managed by the private sector under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of the Executive Secretariat, chief Ecowas spokesperson Adrienne Diop, told reporters on Wednesday. She said there would be a forum of airline operators and other aviation stakeholders, "latest in March", to seek views on the modalities for the structure of the proposed airline.
An earlier attempt by the Community to set up a regional airline, ECO-Air, was frustrated by lack of funding.
The Council also endorsed a plan of action for the implementation of the ECOWAS common agriculture programme, which was approved by regional leaders at their last Summit in Accra.
The ministers also endorsed the 2007 takeoff date for the common external trade tariffs, a four-band tariff regime for imports into the sub-region, as well as proposals to harmonise energy, transport, communication and water resources in the region.
Dr Diop, assisted by two technical directors responsible for agriculture, infrastructure and industry, said the implementation of the proposals will enhance information sharing among member states.
"With this, sufficient information would be provided on the availability of resources and commodities in a particular country, which could be relevant to another", Dr Diop said, citing the 600-million dollar West Africa gas pipeline project, whose construction has already started, as one such pooling of resources from one country to the benefit of others.
However, these proposals, which were adopted by the Council on Wednesday, would have to be approved by the Authority of Heads of State and Government at their Summit in Niamey on Thursday.
Dr. Diop said, as part of efforts to promote unhindered movement of services among the people, ECOWAS has undertaken an assessment of some critical highways in the region with a Japanese grant with the view to upgrading them to become useful links that would promote trade among member countries. Feasibility studies are also in progress for the development of a "unique" gsm Subscriber Sdentificartion Module (SIM) card to be used in all member countries.
Dr. Diop said the Ministers approved the transformation of the Executive Secretariat into a nine- member Commission, to be headed by a president. The Commission, which is expected to come into force in six months, would also comprise a vice president and seven other commissioners responsible for the various sectors regarded as crucial to the promotion of the integration process.
Presently, the Abuja-based ECOWAS Executive Secretariat runs a six-man top management system, headed by the Executive Secretary. Jan. 11 09