Document Type



Presented at the 5th Inter-University Graduate Student Conference at Cornell Law School, March 2009.


African countries after independence in the latter half of the twentieth century embraced the formation of Free Trade Areas (FTAs), provided for under Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT 1947), as an exception to Article I Most Favored Nation (MFN) clause. FTAs were the adopted anodyne to reverse systemic underdevelopment wrought by departing colonialists from Europe and the emergence of the European Union. Sub-Saharan Africa encompasses West Africa, and accounted for 1.1 per cent of world trade in 1991. West African share of world exports with the exception of Nigeria fell from 1.6% in 1980 to 0.6 per cent in 2006. In 1963 Africa’s share of world exports was 5.7 per cent and imports accounted for 5.2 per cent, while in 2006 Africa’s share of exports had declined to 3.1 per cent and imports 2.4 per cent. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)5 FTA is relatively unknown in the United States, unlike the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), which came into effect on January 1, 1994. ECOWAS is a model FTA on the successful abolition of visas amongst its members. A brief history of western dominated international trade regime is necessary, in order to understand why West African countries’ attempts to form a customs union resulted into a free trade area.

This paper analyzes the debate whether FTAs create trade or distort trade, and examines the arguments around their role in facilitating the growth pace of developing countries. The impact of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on developing countries is analyzed through the prism of the constructive school of international relations, and the normative constructs of the realist school. The paper appraises the international economic law regime, through the establishment of ECOWAS in 1975 by fifteen contiguous states in West Africa, to promote inter-regional trade and remove all barriers to labor, capital and ultimately establish a single currency for its fifteen countries. A critical legal analysis is carried out on the implementation of the goals of ECOWAS, and the modification of its treaty through additional protocols; to guarantee, peace, security and democracy in West Africa as a sine qua non for engaging the global economic community in a symbiotic relationship.

The paper concludes that ECOWAS has achieved peace and democracy in West Africa, despite limited resources, but its percentage share of world trade fell from 1.6 per cent in 1980 to 0.6 per cent in 2006, excluding oil exporting members. The paper observes that ECOWAS has a lot of homework to do in lowering rules of origin requirements for goods manufactured in its member countries, provision of public infrastructure, enabling access to credit by entrepreneurs, in order to promote regional trade and access to the global economy.

Date of Authorship for this Version

April 2009


Free Trade Areas, Economic Community of West African States, West Africa