The Economic Community of West African States was established by the Treaty of Lagos signed by fifteen West African Heads of State and Government of in May 28, 1975. The treaty of Lagos was initially limited to economic cooperation but emerging political events led to its revision and expansion of scope of cooperation in 1993. Cabo Verde joined in 1976 and Mauritania decided to withdraw in 2000 to join the Arab Maghreb Union. The vision of ECOWAS is to promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an Economic Union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among member States as well as to contribute to the progress and development of the African Continent.
The member States of ECOWAS are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
The Revised Treaty of ECOWAS states the objectives as:
the harmonization and co-ordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programmes, projects and activities, particularly in food, agriculture and natural resources, industry, transport and communications, energy, trade, money and finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health, tourism, legal matters;
the harmonization and co-ordination of policies for the protection of the environment;
the promotion of the establishment of joint production enterprises;
the establishment of a common market;
the establishment of an economic union through the adoption of common policies in the economic, financial, social and cultural sectors, and the creation of a monetary union.
the promotion of joint ventures by private sector enterprises and other economic operators, in particular through the adoption of a regional agreement on cross border investments;
the adoption of measures for the integration of the private sectors, particularly the creation of an enabling environment to promote small and medium scale enterprises;
the establishment of an enabling legal environment;
the harmonisation of national investment codes leading to the adoption of a single Community investment code;
the harmonization of standards and measures;
the promotion of balanced development of the region, paying attention to the special problems of each Member State particularly those of landlocked and small island Member States;
the encouragement and strengthening of relations and the promotion of the flow of information particularly among rural populations, women and youth organizations and socio-professional organizations such as associations of the media, business men and women, workers, and trade unions;
the adoption of a Community population policy which takes into account the need for a balance between demographic factors and socio-economic development;
any other activity that Member States may decide to undertake jointly with a view to attaining Community objectives.
The organizational structure of ECOWAS consists of the following institutions and specialized agencies:
The Authority of Heads of State and Government
The Council of Ministers;
The Community Parliament;
The Economic and Social Council;
The Community Court of Justice;
The ECOWAS Commission;
The ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID);
The West African Health Organization
The Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing in West Africa (GIABA)
Selected regional indicators for ECOWAS (2014) 
GDP per capita
Area (sq. km)
5.1 million sq. km
Source:United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, statistical database
Trade and market integration are at the heart of ECOWAS’ aims and objectives. Article (3) of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS stipulates the removal of trade barriers and harmonization of trade policies for the establishment of a Free Trade Area, a Customs Union, a Common Market and an eventual culmination in to a Monetary and Economic Union in West Africa.
The ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) adopted in 1979 with an agreement on agricultural, artisanal handicrafts and unprocessed products, and extended to industrial products in 1990, is the main framework for trade and market integration in ECOWAS as it addresses protocols on the free movement of goods, persons and transportation. The ETLS main pursuit of consolidating the free trade area is guided by the National Approval Committees that informs the member States. For this purpose, ECOWAS established an ETLS website to ease harmonization and usage of it. In this regard, ECOWAS has implemented a Customs and Connectivity programme to simplify the movement of goods in the region. The ECOWAS Common External Tariff has thus been operational since 2015. Moreover, member States are increasingly implementing the ECOWAS Single Customs Declaration Form for their customs administrations. The World Bank sponsored Abidjan-Lagos Trade and Transport Facilitation Programme for Benin and Nigeria is one such example. Burkina Faso and Togo are likewise operationalizing the scheme. Nevertheless, challenges in regards to poor domestication of the ETLS is an issue that need to be addressed for deepened trade and market integration in the ECOWAS region.
ECOWAS is also working in three areas to promote investments and competition policies, namely: creation of the ECOWAS Common Investment Market, investment climate promotion and financial market integration. The ECOWAS Investment Forum and the ECOWAS online resource for monitoring the investment climate are such initiatives.
West Africa-European Union negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) were concluded on 30 June 2014 with the initiating of an agreed text by Chief Negotiators. In July 2014, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State endorsed the EPA and opened it up for signature by Member States. To date, 13 ECOWAS member States over 15 have signed the Agreement. The Gambia and Nigeria are the two remaining member countries that have not yet signed, besides Mauritania.
The West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) is an existing Customs and Currency Union between eight ECOWAS member States, namely: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. WAEMU came in to existence in 1994 to deepen economic integration and exists as a sub-regional grouping within the ECOWAS. The remaining ECOWAS member States, with the exception of Cabo Verde, are in the process of establishing a Monetary Union under the constituency known as the West African Monetary Zone. According to the ECOWAS Single currency roadmap, the second monetary zone was scheduled to be launched in 2015 for eventual merger of the two by 2020 with a common currency. The launch has however been delayed to ensure effective coordination between fiscal and monetary policies in the ECOWAS region.
In 2001, ECOWAS set up The West African Monetary Institute (WAMI) in Accra, Ghana to undertake technical preparations and monitoring of quantitative convergence criteria for the establishment of a common West African Central Bank. The ECOWAS Commission, in collaboration with WAMI and WAMA, had set out ten macroeconomic convergence criteria for member States to comply with for the single currency to be implemented. These are known as the Four Primary Convergence Criteria and the Six Secondary Convergence Criteria of quantitative and qualitative benchmarks. Domestication and compliance of the criteria has however not been simultaneous or on a sustainable basis in member States. The initial date for the launch of the single currency was January, 2003. However, the launching has been postponed several times due to member States’ inability to fulfill the set macroeconomic convergence criteria.  The next target for the creation a single currency is 2020.
In May 1979, ECOWAS member States adopted their first protocol relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment. It stipulated the right of ECOWAS citizens to enter, reside and establish economic activities in the territory of other member states and offers a three step roadmap of five years each to achieve freedom of movement of persons after fifteen years. The first phase regards the right of visa-free entry, phase two dealt with the right of residency, and phase three concerns the right of establishment in another member State. The first phase have been fully implemented. The second phase, the right of residency, has also been implemented, given that citizens had obtained an ECOWAS residence card or permit in fellow member State. The third phase, the right of establishment, is still under implementation in most member States.
To facilitate the free movement of people in the ECOWAS region, member States established a common passport, formally known as the ECOWAS travel certificate. The ECOWAS passport was introduced in December 2000 to exempt holders from intra-regional visa requirements and to function as an international travel document. The member States are currently in the process of implementing a joint visa for non-ECOWAS citizens that cover the whole region, the Eco-Visa.
ECOWAS has also implemented measures to ease the movement of persons transported in private and commercial vehicles by harmonizing policies that enable vehicles to enter and temporary reside in a member State for up to ninety and fifteen days respectively. Most ECOWAS member States have, in this regards, instituted the ECOWAS brown card, which is an insurance of motor vehicles that covers the civil responsibly of the owner in the ECOWAS region.
 Aderanti Adepoju, Alistair Boulton and Mariah Levin. 2010. Promoting integration through mobility: Free movement under ECOWAS. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Available from http://www.unhcr.org/49e479c811.pdf
The Treaty of Lagos from 1975 did not contain components relating to the issues of peace, security, stability and governance. The maintenance of regional peace, stability and security through the promotion and strengthening of good neighborliness was therefore incorporated to the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS in 1993 as one of the fundamental principles outlined in Article (4). However, due to the regional instability in the ECOWAS region, member States adopted the Protocol on Non-Aggression in 1978. The Protocol was enriched and in May 1981, ECOWAS member States signed the Protocol on Mutual Assistance Defense for mutual assistance in defense against any armed threat or aggression on a member State. The Defense Committee and Council as well as the Allied Armed Force of the Community were both created to serve the stated purpose. With growing tensions in the West African region, a coalition of Anglophone member States decided to establish a multilateral armed force in 1990 to maintain peace and security, known as the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group. The Monitoring Group intervened in, among others, Liberia in 1990, Sierra Leone in 1997 and in Guinea-Bissau in 1999.
The Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace Keeping and Security was adopted in December 1999 and is arguably the most comprehensive protocol relating to peace and security in the region. It addresses peacekeeping, humanitarian support and peace building capabilities as well as the issue of cross border crime. Moreover, ECOWAS member States also adopted the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance in 2001 as an instrument to promote peace and security in West Africa.
In this context, ECOWAS has established institutions, and programmes in order to realize the commitments of the abovementioned protocols, including: The Mediation and Security Council, Early Warning and Response Network, ECOWAS Standby Force, the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework and the ECOWAS and Civil Society.
ECOWAS member States are reaffirming their commitment to ensure the harmonisation and coordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programmes, projects and activities of ECOWAS as indicated by Article (3) of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS. Particularly in the areas of: food, agriculture and natural resources, industry, transport and communications, energy, trade, money and finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health, tourism as well as in legal matters. Moreover, inter-State cooperation, harmonisation of policies and integration of programmes, are one of the fundamental principles as outlined by Article (4) in the Treaty.
In this context, ECOWAS has gone considerably far in the area of health, infrastructure, energy, aviation as well as food and agriculture. In regards to infrastructure, ECOWAS has established National Road Transport and Transit Facilitation Committees with membership from important public and private sector actors in trade and transport facilitation of all member states to ensure the free flow of trade and transport along their respective corridors. The ECOWAS and African Development Bank are coordinating a Multinational Highway and Transport Facilitation Programme, where the Bamenda-Enugu Corridor was recently completed. The Abidjan-Lagos Trade and Transport Facilitation programme is likewise in the process of completion. Concerning aviation, ECOWAS is focusing on fostering the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision on air transport liberalization through the adoption of the Community Acts. Moreover, the achievements of Air Transport Project during 2013 are aligned with the ECOWAS Air Transport Action Plan for 2009-2015. In this regard, ECOWAS Commission has been assisting member States to provide safe reliable and coordinated air transport system that can provide regular air links among the member States as well as exploring means of ensuring equitable access of eligible airlines to the West African air transport market.
Telecommunications in member States have been widely improved following development of a reliable and modern regional Telecoms broadband infrastructure including the INTELCOM II programme, alternative broadband infrastructures and sub marine cables as well as the establishment of single liberalized telecommunication market. Moreover, energy has likewise been widely improved with the establishment various initiatives including: West African Power Pool, ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency and the ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority.
Concerning food and agriculture, ECOWAS has accelerate the implementation of the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy by the Council of Ministers adopting a number of key strategic regulations aligned with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme. In addition, the ECOWAS strategic plan for the processing and development of the livestock sector has also been adopted and is being implemented in member States.
For More Information
The Headquarters of ECOWAS.
101, Yakubu Gowon Crescent
P.M.B. 401 Abuja, Nigeria
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