Both Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire are founders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). How do you see the development of ECOWAS, and what are the prospects for the future?
I would like to stress that ECOWAS is moving in the right direction. At a meeting in Dakar in 2013, we made some important decisions: First, it was decided that in 2015 there would be a common external tariff for goods that would be implemented by the presidential commission; secondly, the heads of states of ECOWAS wanted to have a single currency by 2020. As you know we have a common currency in the Western African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU); we want to link the Francophone countries with other West African nations and create a common currency for ECOWAS. There have been some improvements as far as the question of the security of citizens of member-state countries is concerned. Also, the presidential commission for ECOWAS is discussing with the EU how to forge a common approach on issues related to our cooperation. For many years, we have been discussing this, and we hope that soon the 15 countries will sign a cooperation agreement between ECOWAS and the EU. Apart from that, there are some projects that would reinforce relations between the various countries. For example, we are working on a toll highway to link five countries.
What is needed to expedite the process of this major infrastructure project?
The feasibility study is underway and needs to be completed, after which we can launch an international tender to build the highway. It will be 1,000 km in length, and run from Lagos to Abidjan and pass through Cotonou, Lomé, and Accra. It is an important project that is expected to cost between $3 billion and $5 billion. The private sector seems to be interested, including the financial sector. I think ECOWAS is the future for our region, because with 15 countries and 300 million inhabitants, it is a powerful political and economic group.
How do you see the future of bilateral trade between Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria?
Nigeria is ranked first as a supplier of Côte d'Ivoire, even before France, due to its supply of oil. We have a refinery called Société ivoirienne de raffinage (SIR) in Abidjan with a large capacity. We buy oil from Nigeria, process it, and then either use it domestically, or else resell it to Nigeria and other ECOWAS countries. Hence, trade relations between our two countries are important. Nonetheless, we have to diversify our exports to Nigeria.
World Economic Forum (WEF) has been held in West Africa for the first time. What is the importance of this?
As the largest economy in Africa, I think that it is a sign of the role of Nigeria in the continent. This could also be beneficial to counties in ECOWAS as Nigeria is a leading member. Côte d'Ivoire considers Nigeria to be a major trading partner. Moreover, holding such a prestigious forum here in Nigeria and in West Africa is important for surrounding countries. First, it is easy to travel to Nigeria compared to other parts of Africa, and also it is a sign that both Africa, and West Africa in particular, have a good future. Africa's GDP rose by 5.4%, while the economies of West Africa grew by 6.5% in 2013. We want to build on this lead, and go as far as possible with regard to integration. We want to have an external tariff agreement by 2015, and full synchronization by 2020.
© The Business Year - January 2015