Applause, relief as Buhari drags Nigeria into AfCFTA

Nigeria has joined the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) with the signing of the agreement by President Muhammadu Buhari in Niamey, Niger Republic. LEON USIGBE, who witnessed the event, writes on the import of the AfCFTA. 


It was a moment of unbridled ovation for Nigeria at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on launch of the Operational Phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in Niamey, Niger Republic, when President Muhammadu Buhari pulled the country into the fold after initially sending mixed signals. Leaders of the continent had in March 2018 gathered in Kigali to consummate the initiative, but Buhari was non-committal towards it as he reasoned that there was the need to properly evaluate the impact on the Nigerian economy.

Not too long after the Kigali meeting, the government signaled its intention to sign the agreement but objection from the manufacturing sector and other stakeholders in the country seemed to have caused the president to have a change of heart, leading to more consultations and the setting up a Presidential Committee to Assess Impact and Readiness of Nigeria to join the free trade area. The committee recommended that it was beneficial for Nigeria to sign the accord but that the country should seek some concessions. President Buhari accepted the report and his remark at the occasion, even though cautious, was the first real indication that Nigeria would not be left behind by the free trade area train. Africa was therefore expectant that its biggest economy would indeed come on board at the Niamey summit.

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At exactly 10.48 am on the day of the summit, President Buhari appended his signature to the document. The action came as the very first item at the opening of the Summit and as he performed the act, the hall erupted with a sustained applause, a confirmation that the continent was relieved that Nigeria had lifted the real obstruction to the coming together of the countries. Buhari affirmed that Nigeria’s commitment to trade and African integration was neither in doubt nor was it ever under threat, promising that the country would build on the event by proceeding expeditiously with the ratification of the AfCFTA. His words: ‘‘I have just had the honour of signing the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), on behalf of my country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

“This is coming over a year since the AfCFTA Agreement was opened for signature in Kigali, Rwanda, at the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union, on 21st March 2018. In fact, you will recall that the treaty establishing the African Economic Community was signed in Abuja in 1991. We fully understand the potential of the AfCFTA to transform trade in Africa and contribute towards solving some of the continent’s challenges, whether security, economic or corruption. But it is also clear to us that for AfCFTA to succeed, we need the full support and buy-in of our private sector and civil society stakeholders and the public in general. It is against this background that we embarked on an extensive nationwide consultation and sensitization programme of our domestic stakeholders on the AfCFTA. Our consultations and assessments reaffirmed that the AfCFTA can be a platform for African manufacturers of goods and providers of service to construct regional value chains for made in Africa goods and services.

“It was also obvious that we have a lot of work to do to prepare our nation to achieve our vision for intra-African trade which is the free movement of ‘made in Africa goods.’ Some of the critical challenges that we identified will require our collective action as a Union and we will be presenting them for consideration at the appropriate AfCFTA fora. Examples are tackling injurious trade practices by third parties and attracting the investment we need to grow local manufacturing and service capacities.’’

President Buhari added: ‘‘Nigeria wishes to emphasize that free trade must also be fair trade. As African leaders, our attention should now focus on implementing the AfCFTA in a way that develops our economies and creates jobs for our young, dynamic and hardworking population. I wish to assure you that Nigeria shall sustain its strong leadership role in Africa in the implementation of the AfCFTA. We shall also continue to engage, constructively with all African countries to build the Africa that we want.” He further noted that Nigeria’s signing of the AfCFTA and its operational launch  was an additional major step forward on the AU’s Agenda 2063.

The host president, Mahmadou Issoufou of Niger Republic, commended Nigeria for signing and adding value to the AfCFTA agreement. The Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, in her address at the occasion, observed that with the signing of Nigeria and Benin Republic, the AfCFTA will bring together almost all the African Union member states. She affirmed that AfCFTA will “create jobs and contribute to technology transfer and the development of new skills; it will improve productive capacity and diversification; and will increase African and foreign investment.”

Twenty -six countries have already ratified the AfCFTA which is expected to be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization with a potential market of 1.2 billion people and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion, across all 55 member states of the African Union.

The African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Albert M. Muchanga, had recommended to the Summit that start of trading should be 1st July 2020 so that the transitional period can be used to undertake critical preparatory activities. These activities include state parties sensitizing their business communities about the emerging market as well as producing and distributing trade documents and convening a meeting of Directors-General of Customs of state parties to share information on their readiness for the start of trading. Other activities planned before the start date are, developing a framework of collaboration between the AfCFTA secretariat and regional economic communities on facilitation of Intra-African trade, and allowing time for the businesses operating in Africa to scale up investments so that they are positioned to supply to the scale of an AfCFTA market of 1.27 billion people.

Beyond production, there will also be required investments in warehouses and other logistics infrastructure.

With the launch of the operational phase of the AfCFTA, traders in Nigeria and across Africa will be able to make use of preferential trading arrangements offered by the initiative, with the understanding that the trade transactions are among the member states that have deposited the instruments of ratification and those that conform to the provisions on rules of origin governing trade in the AfCFTA.

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