Civil society actors from both Ghana, Nigeria, and across West Africa convened virtually under the auspices of the West Africa Civil Society Institute's (WACSI) West Africa Policy Dialogue Series (WACPODiS) to discuss the emerging issues on the Ghana-Nigeria Trade Impasse, the implications for regional integration, and as well proffer recommendations on fostering cordial relations among ECOWAS member States.
The webinar, themed "Ghana-Nigeria Diplomatic Relations: Uncovering, Analysing and Proffering Recommendations from Citizens' Perspective" held on October 7 2020, provided a neutral ground for civil society actors and technical experts to uncover and discuss the key issues, and getting more clarity on local investment laws (including the Ghana Investment Protection Centre (GIPC) Act that prohibits foreigners from operating in Ghana's retail market except with an initial investment of USD 1,000,000) vis-a-vis ECOWAS regional integration protocols and norms, Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) goals and principles, and collaboratively suggest amicable solutions to the trade impasse and assure livelihoods and freedom of all Community citizens.
Over 40 participants from Ghana, Nigeria and other West African countries in the webinar:
Gathered that over 600 shops belonging to non-Ghanaian traders have been closed since 2018 in Ghana's major cities including Accra and Kumasi, and that most of the closed shops belonged to citizens of the ECOWAS Community, predominantly Nigerians;
Recognised that diplomatic relations between Ghana and Nigeria have been threatened in the past months due to the closure of the shops and the resulting agitation from affected traders;
Noted that the perennial closure of retail businesses of foreigners in the country has been a major source of contention as it has been seen as an incessant harassment and act of hostility towards Nigerian traders in Ghana;
Condemned the closure of Nigeria's land borders on the 20 August 2019 with a view to curtail smuggling of goods into the country from neighbouring countries which must have influenced Ghanaian authorities to pursue similar protectionist actions, including the enforcement of the provisions of the GIPC Act;
Questioned the significance of regional trade norms and frameworks, the commitment and political support of Member States, especially Ghana and Nigeria, to the goals of ECOWAS regional integration and free trade;
Revealed the knowledge gap among community citizens on their rights and privileges as enshrined within national laws, constitutions, and regional protocols;
Reiterated the sovereignty of ECOWAS member states to enforce its national laws in tandem with regional protocols and conventions;
Re-echoed the need to create a balance between local laws and ECOWAS protocols on trade and free movements of persons as well as the provisions of the AfCFTA;
Noted with displeasure, the low rate at which African countries trade with one another in comparison to how they trade bilaterally with European and Asian countries;
Conscious of the impact of such trade impasse on the collective goal for regional economic integration, and on the prospects of the recently launched continental free-trade area as a forerunner for African economic integration and by extension societal integration;
Conscious of the fact that the ongoing trade tension between Ghana and Nigeria, if not resolved speedily and amicably, would only exacerbate the economic impact of COVID-19 on community citizens and deepen poverty;
We, at the end of the dialogue, hereby unanimously adopt the following recommendations for consideration by both governments of Ghana and Nigeria, as well as civil society and trade unions;
Both Governments should:
Ensure that relevant national laws and policies follow the provisions of ECOWAS protocols and the aspirations of African Continental Free Trade Area agreement;
Develop the capacity of standard organisations to certify products from other West African countries to ensure competitive markets;
Enforce policies that deny non-African companies the opportunity to benefit from quota-free and duty-free arrangements reserved for indigenous companies under any circumstance;
Invest in building the infrastructural and institutional capacity of key policy institutions to facilitate an enabled trade environment for business and investors;
Limit the extent to which Non-Tariff Barriers like border closures are used to deter non-indigenous trade engagements across the region; and
Intensify diplomatic efforts toward resolving the underlying issues, including the adoption of special negotiated joint trade legislation that serves the interest ofboth countries.
Civil Society should:
Advocate for government to provide social protection measures like tax reliefs for traders who have lost their means of livelihoods due to the closure of shops;
Encourage national association of traders to document their experiences to serve as evidences when reviewing or drafting new trade policies;
Carry out an evidence-based research to assess and document specific impact of local trade laws and policies on the businesses of citizens;
Educate citizens about trade policies and their implication on their day-to-day endeavours, and how to provide information to policy makers;
Encourage more women to participate in international trade;
Promote cultural and political cohesion across the region to aid the achievement of a pan-African spirit; and
Coalesce with the media to help promote positive trade relations between both countries through effective and progressive media rapportage.