ECOWAS Trade Promotion Organisation (TPO) Network Dinner

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Thanks so much, ECOWAS Trade Promotion Organization (TPO) Network. What an excellent evening this has been, excellent compering from Bovi, the comedian, and Chigul who abandoned her famous Pidgin today for an exotic mix of French and Spanish and the great meal of Chef Fregz, the Eden Beginnings Dessert from Yimika, Chike’s live music, and the West African dance fusion, from Baillamos Dance troupe.


What an evening!


So let me say to the Network members, if this is the way you entertain, please book me for next year’s gala!


On the matter of which of our countries make the best jollof rice, it seems to me that this controversy will never end. I, therefore, sought the consent of our President, President Muhammadu Buhari to attempt to end the dispute. So, we have decided to sponsor a competition for the best Fusion Jollof. The first prize is a lot of money, I see I have got everybody’s attention, even those who cannot cook to save their lives are listening intently to this. That Jollof rice must be able to speak English and French and at least one local language. If you are not able to achieve that, you’d probably not win.


Please accept my commendations on the inauguration of the ECOWAS Trade Promotion Organisation Network. This is a farsighted and insightful initiative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Trade Promotion Organizations in the ECOWAS community with the support of the International Trade Centre (ITC).


We must also congratulate the brand-new executive of the network, the President of the network, Mr. Olusegun Awolowo, the CEO of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, and the Vice President Mr. Guy M’bengue, the CEO of Cote D’Ivoire Export Promotion Organisation, and other newly elected pioneer executive members of the network.


Congratulations are also in order for the success of your First Annual General Assembly held here in Abuja on Thursday.


Mr. President of the network and members of this important organization, I am sure you have had a surfeit of matters that we all expect the network to attend to, but let me add to your misery, a list of my own.


What are the tasks and opportunities ahead?


1.The network must drive inclusive trade initiatives in the sub-region.


2. Expand intra-regional trade in the ECOWAS region that is currently at a low 10% of the region’s trade with the rest of the world. It means that our trade within West African countries is so small that we really should be embarrassed by it. I think that this is one great opportunity for us to improve that.


3. You must present a trustworthy platform for cross-learning and the sharing of knowledge and information assets between and amongst one another.


4. You must strengthen the voice of TPOs and the private sector, and this is crucial. Let me elaborate; the vision of our Heads of State and Governments in resolving to establish this network is to build a more robust and broader economic space for trade and investment. A major part of that effort is that the network serves as a platform for businesses and trade promotion agencies in our subregion to share knowledge and business opportunities and develop trade capacity in our sub-region.


5. There is the imminent task of enabling our region to benefit maximally from the African Free Continental Trade Agreements, AFCTA, which as you know is the biggest opportunity so far for trade, not just in our sub-region, but in the entire continent and the world. We are expecting to see something from the network that will put us in the right stead, in the right place to be able to benefit fully from the AFCTA.


The task we have set for you is an enormously difficult one, but two facts give us all confidence. The first is the world-class human resource capacity that the network has, which is so evident because every one of the members here has proved him/herself not just in their own countries, but in ECOWAS. The combined experience of this platform is mind-boggling.


The second is our confidence in your resilience and commitment that assures us that beyond the tunnel of these challenges lies the bright light of a new era of trade prosperity for all of the West African region and indeed our continent. We are expecting great things from this network.


Once more let me congratulate ECOWAS and the ECOWAS TPO network on this monumental achievement and wish you Godspeed as you undertake this important journey to prosperity and abundance for our people through trade.


Thank you and God bless ECOWAS.