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Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

Fact Sheet released by the Bureau of African Affairs, March 4, 1998.

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The 1975 Treaty of Lagos joined 15 West African countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Two years later, Cape Verde brought membership to its present-day total of 16: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. ECOWAS institutions include a Secretariat--located in Lagos, to be relocated to Abuja in 1998--and a foreign exchange clearinghouse, the West African Monetary Agency, originally located in Freetown, currently in Conakry.

The most visible ECOWAS activity in recent years has been its decisive role in bringing an end to the war in Liberia. Starting in December 1989, a group of Liberian dissidents swept across the country to the gates of Monrovia within seven months. The United States, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the United Nations declined to intervene, and in August 1990, the ECOWAS Standing Mediation Committee endorsed the establishment of a Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to oversee implementation of the Abuja Agreement for Liberia.

ECOMOG, under Nigerian leadership, gathered a force of approximately 8,000, with contingents from Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal, as well as Uganda and Tanzania, recruited from outside ECOWAS. After many failed peace agreements, ECOMOG was able to implement the final accord--Abuja II--because of an apparent accommodation with the largest faction's leader, Charles Taylor. More recently, ECOMOG ousted a junta that seized power by force in Sierra Leone. ECOMOG currently is engaged in reestablishing the authority of the legitimate government in parts of Sierra Leone still controlled by the rebels.

The original aim of ECOWAS was to form a customs union binding together the small national markets of West Africa. Economic integration would lead to a single West African market large enough to attract increased investment. In theory, ECOWAS countries were to remove tariffs on member states' unprocessed goods in 1990. Tariffs on industrial goods are to be phased out between 1996 and 2000, with deadlines depending on the level of development of the importing country. In practice, tariffs persist as member countries have been reluctant to risk balance-of-payments difficulties and loss of tariff revenue.

Intra-ECOWAS trade accounts for a modest share--11% in 1995, valued at $3.6 billion--of members' total trade. Most members' exports consist of raw materials shipped to developed country markets, while most imports are industrial goods produced by developed countries.

Nigeria accounts for more than half of ECOWAS' population of 200 million people and nearly half of ECOWAS' $60 billion annual GDP. The next two largest members are Ghana--with 8% of ECOWAS' population and 8% of ECOWAS' GDP--and Cote d'Ivoire--with 7% of ECOWAS' population and 12% of ECOWAS' GDP. Average economic growth in ECOWAS countries is estimated at 3.9% in 1996, led by Cote d'Ivoire with 6.8% growth.

Current plans to advance economic integration include the launching of an ECOWAS travelers check, to be issued by the West African Monetary Authority possibly in 1998, and the formation of a single monetary zone as early as the year 2000.

Transportation infrastructure has been a focus of ECOWAS planning since 1980. Limited funding has delayed completion of highways from Lagos to Nouakchott and from Dakar to N'djamena, which are reported to be 80% and 75% complete, respectively.

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