Seventh country drops bureaucratic requirement in West Africa

The Gambia became the latest West African country this fall to abolish the requirement of certificates of origin (COO) for agricultural traders, thanks to year-long efforts of the Trade Hub and its Gambian partner, the Association of Farmers, Educators, and Traders (AFET).

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) officially eliminated the COO requirement on food products traded within the region in 2003. But border officials still demanded it, adding an average of 15 hours and $41.74 just to obtain that document—or pay a bribe to proceed, a 2017 Trade Hub study found. In 2015, the Trade Hub began partnering with national associations and organizations to urge West African governments to eliminate the COO.

In October 2016, the Trade Hub’s Transport Specialist Mr. Kossi Dahoui discussed strategies to stop COO requirements with the Commissioner General and officials of the Gambia Revenue Authority in the Gambia. At these meetings, Mr. Dahoui explained the importance of eliminating COO for unprocessed agricultural products traded in the region.

“While we advocate for the COO to be eliminated, traders will also be encouraged to carry proper documentation such as commercial invoices, phytosanitary or zoosanitary certificates, and customs declarations for their goods,” Mr. Dahoui said.

In a letter dated October 6, 2017, the Gambia said the country will no longer require COO at its borders for the export and imports of agricultural produce and handmade products produced in West Africa.

“We will still assure you that we will keep on sensitizing our customs officers and other government agencies present at our borders about the protocol of free movement of goods and people and the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme,” Mr. Joseph F. N’jle said in a letter signed on behalf of the Commissioner General of the Gambia Revenue Authority.

The Gambia joins Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Guinea and Mali in eliminating the COO, increasing the free movement of agricultural goods across West African borders reducing harassment of traders, and lowering time and costs of intra-regional trade in agriculture.

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