The Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest-Africaine (UEMOA), the economic and monetary union of the eight West African states of the Franc Zone, is nine months away from a brave experiment in economic integration. From 1 January tariffs, with very few exceptions, will be abolished within the union and its borders will be open for trade, completing four years of steady tariff reductions under the UEMOA’s Ouagadougou-based commission. Policy wonks at Dakar’s Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest worry about the link with the French franc/euro. Many economists believe that the CFA franc is again badly overvalued, as world commodity prices hit lows not seen in real terms since the mid-19th century. But devaluation is unlikely in the short term. While the 50 per cent devaluation in 1994 did more good than harm, governments are scared of raising the price of imports in capitals such as Abidjan and Dakar, where Côte d’Ivoire’s Henri Konan Bédié and Senegal’s veteran Abdou Diouf face awkward elections next year.
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