May 30, 2017
By Edmund Mingle
The next Heads of State Summit of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) slated for Monrovia in June, is expected to take a historic decision that could change the fortunes of the sub-region.
That make-or-break decision has to do with the Kingdom of Morocco’s request to join ECOWAS, and the interesting move by the North African country to join the 15-member West African sub-regional body, makes the decision to be taken very critical.
It is critical not so much of whether Morocco qualifies, because although located in North Africa, Morocco’s bid is in line with provisions of ECOWAS founding treaty and its membership criteria, which qualifies it to join ECOWAS as a Regional Economic Community.
|King Mohammed of Morocco|
But it is deemed highly critical because of what that country brings on board and whether it could offer the needed impetus in rejuvenating ECOWAS’ drive for active regional integration and economic growth.
Founded in 1975 following the Treaty of Lagos in Nigeria, ECOWAS is a 15-member regional group, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’ Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo.
With the aim of promoting the ideal of collective self-sufficiency for its member states, the overriding concern of ECOWAS is to create a single, large trading bloc through economic cooperation. This will have the effect of reinforcing security and peace on the continent by creating a borderless region, whereby African citizens will benefit from the abundant resources of the continent.
These objectives are shared by Morocco, whose bid to join the ECOWAS is bolstered by its longstanding political and economic ties with West African countries, anchored on south-south cooperation, which has resulted in that country being the largest African investor in the sub-region.
Although the Kingdom insists that the move to join the sub-regional bloc is to entrench its south-south cooperation efforts by sharing its resources to support economic growth in the West, critics say it has turned to West Africa due to the collapse of the Maghreb Arab Union made of North African countries, most of which are currently in political and economic distress.
Other critics say the move is an attempt by Morocco to use ECOWAS as a stepping stop to penetrate other regions in its quest to dominate the African economy.
Irrespective of the criticisms which the Kingdom has downplayed, expert analysis clearly indicates that ECOWAS stands to benefit significantly from the admission of Morocco.
ECOWAS weighs 630 billion dollars, representing the world’s 21st Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and by integrating Morocco, ECOWAS would become the 16th largest economy in the world with an addition 115billion dollars and a GDP approaching 745 billion dollars, ahead of Turkey and right after Indonesia.
With its strategic geographical and economic position, Morocco would be a vital platform for ECOWAS countries to secure the European, American and Arab markets.
In addition, joining the ECOWAS will help Morocco to strike a balance in its foreign trade by gearing exports towards Africa instead of the EU, which takes 60 per cent of Morocco’s foreign trade.
Furthermore, a significant benefit is that Morocco will contribute towards social economic development in ECOWAS not through trade but mainly direct investment.
Morocco does not constitute a threat to ECOWAS, as only six per cent of Moroccan exports are directed to the 15-member States, although 65 per cent of Morocco’s foreign direct investments are directed to ECOWAS countries, making the country the leading investor in the region.
The official request to join ECOWAS comes after the recent re-admission of that country into the African Union after its voluntary withdrawal for about three decades.
Before submitting the bid to join the ECOWAS, King Mohammed VI visited 11 countries in the sub-region which were crowned by the signing of numerous major agreements that give strong impetus to bilateral cooperation with the member countries of the regional bloc.
Chiefly among the agreements, Morocco and Nigeria signed a bilateral cooperative deal for the construction of a landmark Africa Atlantic Pipeline project, which will help West Africa bolster its energy security while channeling Nigerian gas across Africa to as far as Europe.
Apart from the Nigeria gas pipeline project, it is also investing in the Tangier-Lagos highway that will benefit the whole of the region. In addition, it is investing in major projects in the agricultural sector for food security, housing infrastructure and renewable energy.
In Ghana, the two countries signed 25 major governmental and public-private partnership agreements in different sectors.
Among other investments, Morocco has initiated industrial cluster projects in a number of countries in the sub-region in the areas of manufacturing, agro-business and fertilizers to attract foreign capital and improve export competitiveness.
Morocco, which holds the third largest reserves of phosphate rock in the world after China and United States of America, remains the single largest producer and supplier of fertilizers. Phosphorus, a key component for fertilizer, is derived from phosphate rock. Prepared to support the African economy with that competitive advantage, Morocco has initiated fertilizer plant projects in several African countries as a measure to boost agriculture production on the continent.
Trust and Cooperation
In his landmark speech in Addis Ababa on the occasion of Morocco’s recent return to the African Union, King Mohammed VI lauded the achievements of ECOWAS, saying that intra-regional trade has reached 10 per cent between the member countries of the west African sub-region, adding that this grouping offers “a reliable space for free movement of persons, goods and capital.”
“Africa must trust Africa, and Africa must work with Africa,” he stressed.
According to Mr. Hamid Chabar, Moroccan Ambassador to Ghana, his government remains expectant of a positive response from the ECOWAS Summit, adding that the objective of joining ECOWAS was genuine and in the spirit of beneficial south-south cooperation and regional integration.
“Morocco has a lot of experience and expertise in various sectors, and we are ready to place it at the disposal of other African countries,” he said during an interaction with journalists in Accra.
Lessons from attempts to enhance the sub-regional economy point to the need for increased intra regional trade and cooperation to make the sub-regional economy more competitive.
The failed attempt to establish the “Eco”, which would have been the common currency for the Anglophone countries in ECOWAS, due to the inability of the countries to meet the convergence criteria, shows the level of weakness of the economy of ECOWAS.
The fresh attempt to introduce a new single currency for the entire ECOWAS by 2020, pending the meeting of four primary convergence criteria, including a single-digit inflation, a fiscal deficit (excluding grants) of not more-than four per cent of GDP and three per cent including grants, central bank financing of fiscal deficit of not more than 10 per cent of previous year’s tax revenue; and a gross external reserves of not less than three months of import cover, would required a lot from ECOWAS members to significantly improve their economies through increased production
Perhaps, the anticipated admission of Morocco into ECOWAS could change the production, export and trade dynamics of the member countries to bolster rapid economic growth that would support the introduction of a common regional currency.
When that happens, ECOWAS, and Africa in general will become more economically competitive in dealing with the rest of the world.