ECOWAS was formed in 1975 by 15 West African states in order to promote trade co-operation and self-reliance in west Africa. Today there are 16 members of ECOWAS, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
ECOWAS aims to create a common external tariff with the elimination of all tariff and non-tariff barriers between member states. It should be noted that whilst many of these measures have been planned by ECOWAS, many do work in practice because of the lack of adequate controls in the region and the porous nature of the borders in West Africa.. Most of these measures were due to be in place by the mid-nineties, but political and economic upheaval has hindered much of the progress.
Despite this, certain tariff preferences are in place and although South African companies cannot benefit directly from ECOWAS preferences when exporting to West Africa, the same comment to companies involved in projects in the region applies.