Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a regional group of 15 West African countries. Founded in 1975, its mission is to promote economic integration across the region.

Considered one of the pillars of the African Economic Community, ECOWAS was created to achieve "collective self-sufficiency" for its member states by creating a single large trading bloc through an economic union. It also serves as a peacekeeping force in the region.

The ECOWAS countries include: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and the Togolese Republic.

Fisheries are a targeted concern in the ECOWAS establishing treaty and there is a mandated technical committee on fisheries. ECOWAS’s mission also calls on its members to cooperate in the development of fisheries, agriculture, forestry, and animal husbandry.


ECOWAS is subject to numerous social, economic, cultural, and security challenges amongst its membership. These challenges create conditions for political instability, which manifest into uncertainties in the ECOWAS process.

The Authority of Heads of State and Government of Member States is the superior body of ECOWAS. It meets at least once a year and is composed of State and/or Government leaders of the member states. The Authority is responsible for the general policies, direction, and control of the Community and takes measures to ensure the realization of objectives. Decisions of the Authority are made in a manner depending on the subject under consideration. They can decide by unanimity, consensus or a two-thirds majority of the member states.

The Council of Ministers is comprised of the ministers of each Member State. The Council meets twice a year and is responsible for the functioning and development of ECOWAS. To these ends, the Council makes recommendations to the Authority on any action.

The Authority and Council are where initiatives begin. Eventually, initiatives may reach the technical commissions, which include a Commission on Food and Agriculture. This commission is tasked with promoting cooperation for the development of fisheries amongst member states to ensure food security, increase production in fisheries, improve employment and work conditions, and protect prices of export commodities.

There are two ECOWAS institutions to implement policies — the ECOWAS Commission and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development, formerly known as the Fund for Cooperation.

ECOWAS is also heavily influenced by the European Union (EU) in the fisheries sector. The EU has many agreements with ECOWAS countries giving access for European fleets to fish in their waters. In many cases, the support from these arrangements determines the extent that the country can manage their fish stocks, because national budgets alone are frequently insufficient for the necessary work to ensure the sustainable use of the resource.


ECOWAS has not addressed the issue of fisheries subsidies. However, some West African countries have used programs such as export subsidies, fuel subsidies, and fishing agreements, amongst others, to promote export-oriented fishing.7

Exports of fish products from Africa to the European Union are the leading agriculture export product, worth $USD 1.75 billion.8 The fisheries sector employs around 7 million people in West and Central Africa.9 However, excessive exploitation of fishery resources has impacted stock levels and poses a significant danger to the sustainable development of fisheries.10

What could ECOWAS produce/do on fisheries subsidies?

Following upon the success of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project of the World Bank, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and Global Environment Facility, it is likely that some ECOWAS members would consider subsidies reform as part of a broader portfolio of fisheries reforms, particularly if the reforms can be associated with greater revenue generation. ECOWAS leaders are particularly concerned with social unrest, so such an initiative would need to include ways to assist coastal communities that are negatively impacted by the removal of fisheries subsidies.

The following are some other activities ECOWAS could undertake:

  • ECOWAS could produce declarations or political-level commitments on addressing harmful fisheries subsidies.
  • ECOWAS could include fisheries subsidies reduction as part of its technical assistance programs on fisheries management, cooperative fisheries policy, and capacity building. It could adjust its focus on capacity building towards programs that would not cause overfishing.
  • ECOWAS also collects information about the fisheries sectors of its members and may be able to conduct a corresponding survey on subsidies.


ECOWAS headquarters
101, Yakubu Gowon Crescent, Asokoro District
P.M.B. 401 Abuja

Tel: +234 9 4604 0483

Email: [email protected]

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