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22.12.2019 Africa

West Africa bloc urges progress on common currency plan

By AFP
L-R: Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari, Chairman, ECOWAS, Mahamadou Issoufou, and President of Ecowas Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou attend the fifty-sixth ordinary session of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja.  By Kola SULAIMON (AFP)
LISTEN DEC 22, 2019
L-R: Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari, Chairman, ECOWAS, Mahamadou Issoufou, and President of Ecowas Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou attend the fifty-sixth ordinary session of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja. By Kola SULAIMON (AFP)

The Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, on Saturday urged members to push on with efforts to establish a common currency, optimistically slated to launch next year.

The bloc insists it is aiming to have the currency called the ECO in place in 2020, but almost none of the 15 countries in the group currently meet criteria to join.

ECOWAS "urges member states to continue efforts to meet the convergence criteria", commission chief Jean-Claude Kassi Brou said after a summit of regional leaders in Abuja.

The key demands for entry are to have a deficit of less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, inflation of 10 percent or under and debts worth less than 70 percent of GDP.

The idea of a common currency for the West African region was first mooted almost 30 years ago in the hope of boosting cross border trade and economic development.

Economists say they understand the thinking behind the currency plan but believe it is unrealistic and could even be dangerous for the region's economies which are dominated by one single country, Nigeria, which accounts for two-thirds of the region's economic output.

Nigeria's Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed told AFP "there's still more work that we need to do individually to meet the convergence criteria".

She said only Togo had currently fulfilled the demands for the requisite period of three years and that a meeting would be held in June to review the situation.

ECOWAS was set up in 1975 and comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo -- representing a total population of around 385 million.

Eight ECOWAS countries -- Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo -- currently use the CFA franc.

They are moored to the single European currency and are gathered in an organisation called the West African Monetary Union, or WAMU.

But the seven other ECOWAS countries have their own currencies, none of them freely convertible.

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