By Lizzy Okoji
Abuja – The ECOWAS Ministerial Coordination Committee on Transport, Logistics and Trade has recommended a harmonised and gradual reopening of land, air and sea borders for restoring cross border economic activities.
This recommendation was made known in a joint communiqué following a ministerial coordination meeting, on Thursday in Abuja, by the Directorate of communications, ECOWAS Commission.
The Committee recommended gradual reopening of the borders especially for movement of humanitarian personnel, medical supplies and equipment and essential goods in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also held that the reopening had become imperative in view of the need to revive the economies of ECOWAS member countries.
It said recommendations were adopted for submission to the Co-Chairpersons of the ad-hoc Ministerial Committee, and Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika and President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Brou.
The Aviation Minister and ECOWAS Commission’s President were expected to submit the recommendations to President Muhammadu Buhari who is champion of the regional COVID-19 response.
President Buhari would present the documents to the Summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government.
“The ministers discussed and agreed on practical modalities based on the report of the regional experts meeting held virtually on June 8 and 10 , 2020.
“As well as the draft Guidelines for the Harmonisation and Facilitation of Cross Border Trade and Transport in the ECOWAS Region on The COVID-19 Pandemic and Related Post-Recovery Actions.
“The opening of the borders is to be hinged on the proposed guidelines for the mitigation of health risks and the harmonisation and facilitation of cross-border trade.
“And transport in the ECOWAS region in the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to a coordinated and progressive opening of air, land and maritime borders.
“The ministers recommended a three-phased approach to the opening of land and air borders, beginning with local internal domestic air and land transport within ECOWAS member states.
“Then a second phase which involves the opening of land and air borders between ECOWAS member states, to allow the free movement of goods and persons.
“On the basis of strict application of the proposed guidelines for the harmonisation and facilitation of cross-border trade and transport in the ECOWAS region.
“Following a review of the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic in respective member states, a third phase of opening air and land borders to other countries with controlled levels (according to WHO classifications) will be pursued,” the committee said.
The ministers further called for accurate information sharing on opening-up measures among member states in the spirit of solidarity, collective self-reliance and inter-State co-operation through bilateral and multilateral consultations.
They also called for the need to ensure speedy and safer clearance of transit goods at the borders and minimise physical contact in customs, cross-border trade transactions.
They said that this would be achieved through the rapid deployment of the new ECOWAS Interconnected Goods and Transit Management System popularly termed SIGMAT.
They also urged the provision of such information to private sector actors namely, shipping lines, Airlines, cross-border transporters and traders, media and civil society while ensuring strong collaboration at borders.
The ministerial coordinating committee, pleaded for strong and determined support for the ownership and implementation of the guidelines” once adopted by the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government.
It stated that apart from ministers from member states, the meeting was also attended by ECOWAS Commission’s Commissioner for Infrastructure, Mr Pathé Gueye and his counterpart for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr Konzi Tei.
Other are Prof. Stanley Okolo, Director-General,West African Health Organization (WAHO), and Mr Paul Koffi, Commissioner, Community Spatial Planning and Transport at the Commission of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).