Accra, May 10, GNA - A two-day West Africa Sub-Regional Stakeholders workshop to harmonise standards for agricultural exports opened in Accra on Wednesday.
The meeting would also discuss the promotion on Sub-Regional basis, an environmental friendly standardisation programme that would increase the competitiveness of the economies of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), make investors to appreciate the Sub-Region as an integrated market and also to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).
Mr Kofi Osei-Ameyaw, Deputy Minister of Trade, Industry, Private Sector and President's Special Initiative (PSI), addressing the opening session, said harmonising international standard and conformity assessment requirements would help to achieve worldwide compatibility in technologies and thereby facilitate easy trade across borders.
He noted that regionalising standards and markets had the added advantage of competing equally with other regional markets in ways that otherwise might not be permitted.
"The European Union has regionalised its standards and markets to achieve trade expansion among its member States and beyond its borders," he said.
Mr Osei-Ameyaw said when ECOWAS countries continued to apply different standards and conformity assessment procedures; such policies would lead to fragmentation and constriction of its regional trade and reduce the level of collective economic development markets. "We should, therefore, not allow our national standards to continue to present technical barriers to the free flow of goods both within and beyond the borders of ECOWAS," he said.
The workshop under the theme; "Developing a Harmonised Regional Policy on Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) Measures in West Africa" is being organised by the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mr Osei-Ameyaw urged ECOWAS member countries to remove the numerous restrictions that hindered inter-trade among them and to rather open up to liberalisation, advocate and adopt common strategies that would enable them to realise a strong ECOWAS market.
He said it was important for member countries to realise the importance of the current global trend, which was towards regional harmonisation in the standards sector and be prepared to take its rightful place in the galloping process.
The Deputy Minister urged member countries to implement their standards harmonisation policies in accordance with international standards in order to achieve its objectives.
"We believe that through regionalisation of standards, ECOWAS joins this trend in a more effective manner, because common regional standards would create the entry recognition to other regional markets," he said. He said ECOWAS needed to address improvement in technical standards like SPS measures; testing and calibration; certification and regulatory infrastructures in addition to considering capacity development in their export quality management.
Mr Osei-Ameyaw said developing countries had not benefited much from the growing markets for agricultural products despite successive tariff reductions over the past 50 years.
He attributed this to the inability of developing countries to supply the required volumes, stringent environment and public health regulations imposed by developed nations, aimed at protecting human, plant and animal lives and health.
Mr Osei-Ameyaw said it was, therefore; imperative that developing countries within ECOWAS succeeded in their standardisation to ensure effective competition in the multilateral trading system.
He explained that health regulations, commonly referred to as the SPS measures and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) required the building of infrastructure that would ensure improved standards and remove health and safety threats in production, "which would prevent our multilateral trading partners from mounting these technical barriers against us". "On that note, we need to take precautionary and preventive steps to stop food scares such as the bird flu, mad cow disease, swine fever and foot and mouth diseases among other diseases," he said.
Mr Osei-Ameyaw called for assistance from Africa's development partners in aid for trade, a commitment which was adopted in 2005 at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Doha in Hong Kong, to assist developing countries to advance in their development through trade.
He urged member countries to endeavour to improve their standardisation systems in order to comply with health regulations to ensure effective competition in the multilateral trading system. Mr Osei-Ameyaw said ECOWAS had already established community institutions such as the Community Court of Justice and the Community Parliament while continuous progress was being made among member countries in priority programmes such as the free movement of goods and persons as well as the common currency programme.
He said the Ministry was also addressing issues related to standards in Trade Sector Support Programme (TSSP) that would eventually take cognisance of the bilateral dimensions of standards. Mr Osei-Ameyaw said some of the standard components were the enforcement of standards on the domestic market to protect the health and safety of consumers, improving management efficiency and labour productivity to enhance productivity of firms.
"ECOWAS countries stand to gain economically from regionalising our standards and standardisation institutions, but in doing so, we have no doubt that we may lose some sovereignty of national policy, however, the importance of harmonised standards policy for West Africa may outweigh the loss," he said.
Mr John Ndanusa Akanya, Director General and Chief Executive of Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), attributed the gradual decline in exports from Africa to lack of financing for private sector development, inadequate research and problems associated with technology transfer as well as insurance against risk of entrepreneurs. He mentioned lack of information and understanding of different preferential trade agreements and requirements as major factor of low exports.
Mr Akanya stressed the need for a common regional harmonisation standard that would help Africa to compete favourably on the global market.
Mr George Adu Darkwa, Private Sector Executive Director of Ghana Standards Board (GSB), said access to global markets was very crucial to the economy of developing countries because about 10 per cent of the world's population lived in Africa, but "our share of the world trade is only two per cent".
He said when Africa raised its exports it could facilitate effective development and improve the lives of Africans. Mr Darkwa urged ECOWAS member countries to work to overcome the challenges of mutual cooperation, coordination and collaboration, which included lack of participation in international standardisation, difficulty in meeting requirements of export markets and demonstrating compliance.