Interview: Marcel de Souza

How will Morocco’s membership impact the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)?

MARCEL DE SOUZA: Morocco has quickly become one of the main sources of foreign direct investment in West Africa, with several companies already occupying strategic positions that cover a number of key sectors – such as banking, agriculture, insurance, health care and construction. Their inclusion within the union will include the free movement of people, goods, services and capital, each coming into effect through various phases. The kingdom is committed to adopting the single currency once instituted. By entering the union, Morocco will be granted Customs-free access to a market of over 340m people, greatly expanding their ability to profit from economies of scale and the optimisation of value chains across the region. ECOWAS citizens will have the ability to travel, do business and live in Morocco, allowing them to profit from the advances in the fields of education, professional training, medicine and so on.

Morocco has made great strides in the fight against unemployment and poverty, and most importantly, terrorism – which are elements we seek to emulate. The lowering of Customs duties will have negative effects on the financial resources of member states as Customs revenues decrease. To counteract this, we are thinking of reinstituting a compensation fund to help industries adapt to this policy, as was done in the years following the creation of ECOWAS. An impact study has already been authorised by the commission with the help of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and its results will direct us in the implementation of guidelines leading towards the full integration of Morocco into the union.

What are the difficulties currently affecting integration efforts within the union?

DE SOUZA: Although ECOWAS has the highest score on UNECA’s Regional Integration Index in terms of free movement of people in Africa, challenges remain. We are working closely with stakeholders in the application of the rules governing the integration process. Non-tariff barriers remain an impediment to the free movement of goods and persons.

Several initiatives are currently ongoing to build awareness of these issues among government authorities progressively eliminate them. Most recently, a task force was created to work in close collaboration with chambers of commerce, private operators, and public authorities, to flag cases of harassment and unlawful behaviour at the borders. Until today, we have opted for a policy of raising awareness, although we will soon move towards more reprehensive measures.

The Unity and Stability Pact of ECOWAS requires nation states to ensure a certain level of fiscal coordination and harmonisation of Customs policies. However, currently the application of such guidelines remains lacklustre across the union. Therefore, by 2020, coercive measures will have to be instituted to ensure the adequate application of these.

What opportunities would the creation of a single currency provide the union with?

DE SOUZA: As we seek fully to integrate our economies, the creation of a single currency is an inevitable stepping stone. We are currently witnessing the benefits of such policy within the West African Economic and Monetary Union – with inflation levels oscillating close to 2%. We believe the creation of a single currency could also spur interest among both local and international investors seeking to finance regional infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, reports have shown that policies aimed towards the harmonisation of budgetary, monetary and external indebtedness policies have seldom been respected by member states. We hope that as we consolidate our achievement from recent years and weather the storm of the fall in commodity prices, countries will progressively adhere to these policies.