Legal bases of ETLS

Protocol  A/P1/1/03 of 31st January 2003

Regulations C/REG.3/4/02,


C/REG.5/4/02 of 23 April 2002


Definition of terms and acronyms

  • Common Market: In a Common Market there are no barriers to the movement of goods, services and factors of production.
  • Customs Union:  A Customs Union consists of a group of countries that remove tariff and non tariff barriers to substantially all trade among them. In addition, they create and apply a common external tariff for goods from non member countries.
  • ECOWAS: Economic Community of West African States.
  • UEMOA/WAEMU: West Africa Economic Monetary Union.
  • ECOWAS Certificate of Origin: A certificate that identifies and confirms goods as originating in ECOWAS and therefore eligible to benefit from ETLS.
  • ETLS: ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme.
  • Ex-Factory Price: This refers to the price of the product at the factory gate. It includes the cost of production but excludes other costs e.g consumption tax.
  • Free Trade Area: A Free Trade Area consists of a group of countries that remove tariff and non tariff barriers to substantially all trade among them.
  • Member States: These are the 15 member countries that make up ECOWAS.
  • Tariff: A financial charge in form of a tax imposed on imported products. (There are also export tariffs but these are uncommon.)
  • Third Country: Any country that is not one of the 15 ECOWAS countries.
  • Value Addition: The process of adding value to a product before offering it to consumers.


What is the ETLS

Article 3 of the ECOWAS revised treaty highlights one of the main objectives of ECOWAS as promoting economic integration in the region by, among others, creating a common market. One essential step towards realising this objective was the setting up of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS).

The ETLS is a tool to facilitate the working of a Free Trade Area. It ensures that goods can be circulated freely without the payment of customs duties and tariffs. Aside from this, it also includes putting in place measures aimed at facilitating trade by reducing red tape and paperwork at borders.

The ETLS came into existence first in 1979 but only covered agricultural goods, livestock, unprocessed goods and artisan handcrafted products at that point. However, it expanded in 1990 to also include industrial goods. This created the need for rules which determine whether industrial goods originate within the region or meet other criteria conferring origin. The “Rules of Origin” were therefore spelt out (see page 5). An industrial good which complies with these Rules of Origin is eligible to benefit from ETLS.


The Scheme has undergone a series of transformation in respect of the categories of goods that are covered.

The first category was defined when the scheme first came into existence in 1979. At that time, agreement was reached on only agricultural, artisanal handicrafts and unprocessed products to benefit from the scheme. Following this, in 1990, further agreement was reached and industrial products could be approved to take part in the scheme.

With industrial products being accepted, it became imperative to define what products were “originating” from the ETLS region. The rules of origin which guide this concept are defined in the ECOWAS protocol A/P1/1/03 of 31st January 2003. It defines out originating products as follows:

  • Wholly produced goods; goods whose raw materials completely originate from the region.
  • Goods which are not wholly produced but their production requires the exclusive use of materials which are to be classified under a different tariff sub-heading from that of the product.
  • Goods which are not wholly produced but their production requires the use of materials which have received a value added of at least 30% of the ex-factory price of the finished goods.

It must be noted that goods manufactured in free zones or special economic schemes involving suspension or partial or total exemption of entrance fees do not qualify for originating products status.

Objectives of the ETLS

The ETLS is a tool to facilitate the working of the Free Trade Area. It ensures that goods can be circulated freely without the payment of customs duties and taxes with similar effects on imports. Aside from this, it also includes putting in place measures aimed at facilitating trade by reducing red tape and paperwork at borders.

Who can benefit from the ETLS?

The ETLS is open to every enterprise located and operating in any of the 15 ECOWAS Member States that intend to export the product within the region. All enterprises are bound by the rules spelt out in the protocols and regulations governing the ETLS. These protocols include: A/P1/1/03 of 31st January 2003 and Regulations C/REG.3/4/0, C/REG.4/4/02, C/REG.5/4/02. (See Protocols and Regulations governing the ETLS available on www.etls.ecowas.int, www.ecowas.int, the ECOWAS Commission and ECOWAS National Units).

Enterprises from Export Processing Zones or Free Zones and any other special economic schemes or customs territory may not benefit from the ETLS

What goods can benefit from the ETLS?

The following product groups benefit from ETLS , provided they originate from the ECOWAS region:

  • Agricultural and livestock products
  • fishery products from the sea, rivers or lakes
  • artisanal handicrafts
  • industrial goods
  • Agricultural and livestock products
  • handmade articles manufactured with or without the use of tool, instruments, or  implements directly operated by the craftsman

How to get a Certificate of Origin for approved industrial goods?

A Certificate of Origin (CO) can be obtained by a company through the following procedures:

  • Have products approved under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS);
  • Wish to export to ECOWAS Member States;
  • Buy or procure (depending on the Member State) a copy of the ECOWAS CO from the designated competent authority (Chamber of Commerce and Industry or Ministry of Industry and Trade);
  • Fill in the CO to reflect the decision to obtain an approval and as the operations of the enterprise dictate (depending on its approval decision and its invoice);
  • Submit the application form duly completed and signed by the entreprise for verification and endorsement by the competent authority (Chamber of Commerce and Industry or Directorate of Industry) which send the filled form to the Customs Service for verification and endorsement.
  • Collect the dully  signed and stamped CO by the stakeholders (Competent Authority and Customs Service) from the competent authority.

What are the steps for manufacturers of industrial goods to trade under the ETLS?

  • First, collect an application form from the competent authority in your country which is designated for that purpose;
  • Fill out and send these application forms back to the competent authority who forwards the applications to a Committee responsible for the ETLS known as the National Approvals Committee;
  • Wait for the applications to be reviewed by the National Approvals Committee;
  • The list of approved and disapproved enterprises is submitted to the ECOWAS Commission for validation and notification to all ECOWAS Member States;
  • The competent authority informs you when an ETLS Certificate of Origin is ready to be collected after approvals have been made and the Commission has notified all other Member States. The Certificate of Origin is valid for six (6) months commencing from the date of its issuance. However, it is valid for one product only;
  • You can export your goods to any of the ECOWAS Member States duty free using your Certificate of Origin. Please ensure to have your certificate in hand before attempting to export.                                                                                                                                                                  Please,  kindly click on the link below for more information       http://etls.ecowas.int/approval-procedures/

What documents are needed for applying for acceptance into the ETLS?

  • A template of “application for admission to the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme”;
  • A copy of the legal statutes of the company;
  • A copy of the certificate of registration with National Affairs Commission ;
  • A copy of the text granting preferential treatment by Member State of domiciliation;
  • The table on amortisement given details of investments made and rate and mode of amortisement;
  • All other documents required by national regulations.

Where can I get information on the ETLS?

Information on  ETLS can be obtained from the Focal Points of the National Approval Committees (NACs) of the Member States. Please click on the link below to select the Member State you wish to contact.


Can one (1) Certificate of Origin be used for several products so long as it is the same enterprise?

No, a Certificate of Origin covers one type of product. A Certificate of Origin must be established for each type of product to be exported.

How do I know if my goods are prohibited from being imported into another ECOWAS Member State?

It is the responsibility of the exporter to enquire about rules on import of his product and prohibitions lists before exporting into a Member State. This information is available at the ETLS Focal Point in the importing Member States.

What national rules and regulations do I need to know when I export under the ETLS ?

Before you export a good, you must make inquiries regarding the national rules  in the destination country, especially with regards to technical requirement relating to the products.

Can I use one (1) Certificate of Origin to export to different or several countries?

No, an ETLS Certificate of Origin for a given product can only be used for a single given destination country in the ECOWAS region.

How often can I use my Certificate of Origin?

The validity period of the Certificate of Origin (CO) is 6 months. The CO covers a transaction but with the possibility of partial charges in the event of staggered or split consignments up to the quantity subject to the transaction and during the validity period of the CO.

Are there taxes which I have to pay despite the approval of my product into ETLS ?

Yes, even an approved product has to pay Value Added Tax (VAT) and, if applicable, exercise duties, if the said country has enacted them.



  • Calculation of the proportion of 60% local content of products (b) to (i) cited in article 3, paragraph j of the ECOWAS Treaty:
    {∑ QLocal ⁄ ∑Q (Local + Foreign)} × 100 ≥ 60%
  • The criteria for change of tariff headings, which must be reflected in the first 4 digits of the HS code
  • The calculation of value-added which must be at least 30% of the ex-factory price minus taxes of the products (article 4, paragraph 2 of the mentioned protocol):
    VA⁄Ex-factory Price × 100 ≥ 30%
    Valued Added (VA) is the total ex-factory price minus CIF Value (or taxes) of raw materials and consumables. Components determining ex-factory cost price include: Raw materials, consumables, packaging and other expenditure borne by the company. Please note: Salaries and wages must not be more than 20% of the ex-factory cost price. Works, supplies, and external services must not be more than 10% of the ex factory cost price and must be directly tied to production. Financial charges must not be more than 30% of the ex factory cost price.”


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