H.E. Mr. Cheikh Hadjibou Soumaré
President of UEMOA Commission
—You came to Japan to represent the UEMOA. What were your expectations from the inaugural ECOWAS-Japan Forum?
First of all, I would like to thank the ambassadors who represent us here, as well as the Japanese authorities that have made it possible for this inaugural ECOWAS-Japan Forum to be held. The goal is to better understand one another in order to work together more successfully.
We are presently working on a strategy to transform our economy. If we merely produce to export without making changes, there will be a lack of opportunities in terms of creating jobs, wealth and added value.
What does UEMOA stand for?
A trade zone agreement between Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo formed to encourage internal development, improve trade deficits, establish uniform tariffs for goods imported from non-member nations, establish a regional stock exchange and a regional banking system. Formerly called the West African Monetary Union.
Therefore, we have a dynamic economy that will thrive in the long term only if we put in place certain infrastructures and ensure that our private sector is organized in a functional manner.
—How do the UEMOA and Japan work together?
Since the UEMOA was founded in 1994, we have cooperated with Japan through the TICAD. This cooperation becomes stronger year after year, and Japan’s support is invaluable.
We presently have several Japanese experts who are working with us in order to develop the common market and the cross-border fund sector. We are currently establishing checkpoints between countries so as to allow trade between countries in the region to flow freely.
—The project for a common currency in the ECOWAS region was brought up during the Forum. What role will the UEMOA play in this project?
Our Heads of State have actually decided to work towards a common currency by the year 2020. The aim of this decision is to support the process of transformation of our economies, as well as our long-term development. But as you will be aware, the UEMOA is a part of ECOWAS. The eight countries of the UEMOA already have a common currency–the CFA franc, which is an internationally convertible currency.
As a sub-region of ECOWAS, the UEMOA will be able to assist with the successful completion of this project thanks to the expertise it has already gained in the management of a common currency. For ECOWAS, the common currency represents a great opportunity for the sub-region, but also poses some potential problems.
All member countries must unite economically in order to build an economic zone that is stable, firm and interdependent. It is therefore important that all of the criteria for convergence imposed by the UMEOA are respected equally by all of the ECOWA member countries.
—Is there anything else you would like to say to our Japanese readers?
I would simply like to say to the Japanese private sector that Africa, and the ECOWAS sub-region in particular, is a dynamic region that has huge potential. We are one of the most productive regions in terms of agriculture.
Ivory Coast is known for its coffee and cocoa production, as well as being the largest producer of cashew nuts. Burkina Faso is a major exporter of cotton. And then there are countries such as Senegal, Togo, Benin and Mali, which are carrying out large-scale development of their production of phosphate and other minerals.
ECOWAS is a dynamic region that is making remarkable progress. It is important to know that we now have a regional policy that enables us to ensure the security of investments as well as a democratic process that has made great strides.
Therefore, I invite the Japanese private sector to invest in our region with confidence.