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Proposed Single West African Currency Could Boost Trade, Stability


Experts say a single currency across West Africa could boost regional and international trade and increase stability across the region. West Africa's regional economic body, ECOWAS, has said it aims to create a currency union for the region by the end of the decade. Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.

Economic analysts say a single currency in West Africa could increase economic cooperation within the region.

"The region has been encouraged by the success of the European integration, that has resulted in the single currency called the Euro, and I think it is something good for the region," said Godfrey Obioma, a financial journalist with a Nigerian daily business newspaper.

Eight French-speaking West African countries already use a single currency, the CFA. Four former-British colonies - Ghana, Nigeria, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone - along with former French colony, Guinea, have been developing a second regional currency, the ECO. Under a possible two-track approach to a single currency, the CFA, ECO, and other local currencies would later merge.

But at a recent ECOWAS summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, West African heads of state said they want a strategy that will integrate the entire region faster.

A study commissioned by ECOWAS this week in Burkina Faso aims to present the most feasible approach and timetable to heads of state by December.

Obioma says currency unification is the last major step towards regional integration. Already citizens within ECOWAS countries can move across borders without visas or passports, he says, which facilitates regional trade.

Alex Vines, Africa analyst for British-based Chatham House, says a single currency could boost international trade. "Companies that are in Dakar would, for example, be able to deal in the same currency with Nigeria rather than having to change their West African francs into Naira," he notes.

He says it would also make local trade more efficient, and could improve regional stability.

"The reality is informal trade crosses over anyway all these borders, anyhow, but it just makes trade more efficient, and that has got to be a good thing for West Africa," says Vines.

Trade in West Africa has tended to be oriented toward former colonizers in Europe, rather than developing countries next door. Vines says it remains a question whether some of the larger countries in the region, with larger economies, will adopt the single currency when the moment actually arrives.

In a region that includes some of the world's poorest countries, Vines says West African countries will have to look closely at how or if they might intervene in the case of an economic crisis within the region.

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