The Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) is encouraging government to immediately use existing bilateral relations to influence the return of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso into the regional bloc.

This comes as three military led governments, who have been suspended from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to allow for a return to democratic rule, announced plans to withdraw from the economic bloc.

In an interview with the Ghana News Agency on Tuesday, January 30, Dr Joseph Obeng, President, GUTA, said any exit by the three countries would adversely affect trade and hinder regional development.

He said though the Association recognised Ghana’s membership in ECOWAS, it was important that in the current situation, Ghanaian Authorities quickly use bilateral relations between member countries to help resolve issues.

“The first step to use is for Ghana to bypass ECOWAS and use the existing good relationship with the three countries to find immediate solution to restore trust and confidence as a catalyst to unify all member states,” Dr Obeng said.

He explained that Ghana, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso traded among themselves in volumes of items, including onions, tomatoes, cola nuts, salt, as well as locally made and imported goods.

“We should be mindful of the fact that one major reason for the formation of the regional bloc is to take advantage of, the number of people in the sub region for the purpose of trading to enhance economies of member states,” he said.

“The exit of the three countries from ECOWAS will, therefore, cause unnecessary controls at the borders, which will hinder the free movement of people, goods and services within the sub region,” Dr Obeng said.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Mali had showed AFP a copy of the letter it sent to ECOWAS, while Burkina Faso’s official news agency reported that the country had sent an official notice, with information yet to emerge from Niger.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS said earlier in a statement that it was awaiting “formal and direct notification” from the three countries.

Under the bloc’s statutes, withdrawal could not take effect for at least a year after official notification.