Worried by the high unemployment, poverty and infrastructural deficit in the West African region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has advocated improved private sector collaboration to bridge gaps in the region.

With a population of 400 million people, the bloc noted that an infrastructure deficit needs to be addressed for the region to be competitive, adding that the cost of electricity in the region is three times higher than that of the developed countries.

ECOWAS added that unemployment is a major challenge for the region, as millions continue to enter the labour market, necessitating the need for job creation through the private sector as well as a conducive environment for such businesses to thrive.

President, ECOWAS Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Brou, during a webinar organised in collaboration with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) to commemorate the Commission’s 46th anniversary emphasised the need for collaboration with the private sector to move the region’s 400 million people out of poverty.

Themed, ”Optimising sustainable trade, investment and regional economic integration through effective partnership between ECOWAS institutions and the organised private sector”, Brou, represented by the acting Director, Trade, ECOWAS, Kolawole Sofola, said the commission, in recognition of the private sector’s role, created a stronger framework to boost the sector’s capacity for enhanced trade.

He said that the commission had also adopted more than 100 regional standards with 70 others under development as part of the implementation of the West African competitiveness programme. Brou listed mango, cassava, textile and garments as well as information and communication technology among such products.

“The growing importance of informal trade compels the ECOWAS to create a framework expected to engender more availability and reliability of up-to-date information on informal trade. The framework also seeks to implement reform that is essential to eliminate obstacles to informal trade among others.

“It is important to improve investment, particularly, private investment, in all sectors and I stress that digitalisation must be at the centre of activities for economic recovery.

“Infrastructural deficit must be addressed as well as sustainable and cheaper energy for the competitiveness of products. The Commission is developing projects on roads, renewable energy and education, needed for private sector development; all these to lift millions in the sub-region out of poverty,” he said.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo noted that the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and the protocols of free movement of persons, capital and goods should be leveraged to deepen economic integration.

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