DAKAR (Reuters) - Leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed on Friday to implement a single customs tariff regime from 2015 in an effort to accelerate economic integration.
The Common External Tariff is designed to harmonize customs charged on imported goods to the bloc of some 300 million people.
"This is an objective ECOWAS has pursued since its creation 38 years ago and today we have crossed an important stage in the integration of our peoples," the president of the Ecowas commission, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, told Reuters.
The eight-nation Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA) - whose members form part of ECOWAS - already has a single-tariff scheme and a shared currency.
ECOWAS groups Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the members of UEMOA - Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Niger and Togo. ECOWAS aims to introduce a single currency throughout the bloc by 2020.
The summit also approved the introduction of a 1.5 percent levy to finance the activities of the community, to replace an existing 0.5 percent tax, which leaders agreed would be phased in over five years.
Ouedraogo said the introduction of a single tariff regime would kick-start stalled negotiations with the European Union on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The European Union is West Africa's largest trade partner.
The talks had broken down over the speed at which West African nations were willing to open their market and lift tariff barriers. The two sides were also at odds over an ECOWAS request for compensation for the cost of adjustment to the new trade regime.
(Reporting by Diadie Ba; writing by Daniel Flynn; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)