The need for a free flow of people, goods, and services is central to economic growth in West Africa. Regional trade is critical for supplying reasonably priced essential goods and creating more jobs for the African people, but the continent lags far behind the rest of the world. One of the key components of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol promises the “free movement of persons and goods,” but despite the official support of 16 member countries, this has been procedurally unattainable in practice. Free trade remains illusory in West Africa.
Despite an average 5.5 percent annual GDP growth in 2014, West African countries are among the poorest in the world — primarily because of their paralyzed trade system. More than 80 percent of trade volume in Africa comes from exporting natural resources to developed economies, but trade between ECOWAS members is minuscule compared to regional trade among those developed nations. Intra-regional trade constitutes 63 percent of total exports in Western European nations, 40 percent within the NAFTA region, and 20 percent within South America’s Mercosur block, trade within ECOWAS only accounts for 9.3 percent of total exports.