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Mr. Frank Ofei

Africa In Focus: Episode #60: “The ECOWAS Common External Tariff is necessary” – Frank Ofei (Retired ECOWAS Staff)

Independent Economic Consultant Frank Ofei believes the Common External Tariff (CET) that Ghana has begun implementing on 1 February “is to prepare us to be competing on even ground.” He contends “the CET is a good instrument, but like every instrument, it is how we position ourselves on how to use it.”

Speaking to host E.K.Bensah Jr on the “Africa in Focus” Show, Ofei, who is a former ECOWAS Staff with nineteen years as a Director of Economic Policy at the-then ECOWAS Secretariat, explained that his take-home message is “everybody who wants to comment on it…should put it in proper context.” He went on “If you take certain products, you must know what the rates were before the CET; what rates there are now, and the reason behind the change – if there is any change.” He continues “from there, you can protest, comment and make suggestions. The thing is that the CET has been adopted, but if it is realised that it is doing more harm…than good, then the country has a duty to back to ECOWAS and say ‘this is not working right… for the long-term development of the region as a whole.’”

He believes “this kind of analysis and feedback” of the Common External Tariff “needs to be done.”
According to Ofei the CET “is saying that all the ECOWAS are adopting the same rates of customs duties for goods imported into the country. Before the adoption of this, each country had its own rate, with some of them having four bands.” He says that some even had as many as fifteen bands. The idea is for all States to adhere to a categorisation of bands. “There is a negotiation of what products go into particular groups under what particular rate.” ECOWAS inherited the UEMOA rates of 0, 5 and 20 percent. They would eventually add a fifth band, which was fixed at 35 percent. This covers sensitive products.

The second important issue that comes up, Ofei maintains, is that the CET is not just a customs duty to raise revenue. He adds “It is a policy instrument for encouraging production, for protecting health, defence and security.”
The host spent the better part of the show discussing with Ofei aspects of ECOWAS’ integration, including the regional significance of the CET; the ECOWAS Biometric ID Card and the future of Guinea-Bissau.

Ofei expressed surprise at the fact that an impoverished and fairly-illiterate country like Niger would be the country where the Biometric ID Cards would be launched by the International Organisation for Migration.
Pressed by the host to elaborate on Guinea-Bissau which he described as “the black sheep of ECOWAS”, Ofei clarified that “recently, there was an ECOWAS package to move the country to a more viable state of affairs, but wouldn’t want to label GB a “black sheep”, because the policy in ECOWAS is that every country has its own challenges, and so what it does is look at what each country brings on board positively.”

He went on to explain that, “a number of initiatives have been started for Guinea-Bissau, and similar things were done for Cote d‘Ivoire.” He contends “at various levels, ECOWAS has country-specific measures to address issues”, such as a Special Representative. He agrees there must be “focus at the regional level on how to bring GB out of problems looking at specific issues that can be better-addressed at the regional level.”

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