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Nigeria still reluctant to sign the African continental free trade Agreement

16.05.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
If there is an important project that African leaders gave total consideration, then it can be nothing less than the continental free trade area agreement. It was the desire of then African Union Chairperson and Rwandan President to materialize a remarkable project for the African Union (AU), before leaving the rotational office of the AU, Africa's most valuable institution. Thus, President Kagame together with his counterpart saw a vision of a free trade area for the continent. These leaders saw trade or commercial connectivity as one of the important things to spur especially economic development in Africa.

There came in 2018 the introduction of the African Continental free trade area agreement AfCTA, a platform where African nations are obliged to ink an economic deal, which will intend give way to the creation of a free trade zone by Africans for all Africans.  Like the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, the aim of this continental free trade area is to establish a flexible trade and investment among nations, thus boosting intra Africa trade, promote private sector growth, spur industrialization and curb poverty, among other things.

Signatories to the trade deal

When it was launched on March 21, 2018, in Kigali-Rwanda, a total of 44 out of 55 countries in Africa immediately signed the deal, it was a great milestone celebrated by all the leaders. However, there was more to the trade deal than just signing. A minimum of twenty-two (22) countries had to sign and ratified the agreement for it to go operational.  Among the countries that signed, Nigeria one of Africa’s great economies failed to ink the trade deal, a move that left everybody in doubts. This is because Nigeria is a strong business destination, thus, much was expected from such a nation, but all the expectations ended in limbo. As at now, three countries including Nigeria, Benin and Eritrea are at the verge of being signatories to this great deal.

Reason advocated by Nigeria for not signing the free trade agreement

The Nigerian government did not just vehemently deny to ink the African continental free trade agreement, the Buhari led administration said it had to engage into constructive consultations with Nigerian labour congress, the manufacturers association, together with major actors in the private sector, before signing the trade deal, this, refuting claims of not treating the project with importance and urgency. According to an anonymous pundit, the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari did not rush into signing the AfCFTA shows that he values the deal and thus, wants to treat it with caution.

In another instance, Nigeria felt its deteriorating security will further be jeopardized if it rushed into signing the landmark trade agreement. President Buhari explained that he doesn’t want to make his country a dumping ground for finished products. However, understanding the economic and security implications of the free trade agreement is what the Federal Government of Nigeria is striving to compromise. As clearly stated, if materialized, the free trade zone would mean free movement of goods and service, and people from one country to another with little or no restrictions, thus a porous border will intend to boost the proliferation of arms, bandits or terrorists.

Consultation efforts

Many internal talks have been ongoing in Nigeria to ascertain its position in the free trade zone. In May last year, some six consultative gatherings were conducted in Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones including North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-East, South-South, and South-West. As asserted by Nigeria’s vice president during the 2018 Africa Trade Forum in Lagos- Nigeria, a lot of background work is being done as far as the Africa continental free trade zone is concerned. Professor Osinbajo quoted ‘’ we are possibly the largest market in Africa today and most likely to benefit the most or lose the most from the implementation of the agreement, the reason the government is striving to analyse the concerns, challenges of the AfCFTA being officially signing the Pan African economic deal. Practically there more advantages in the trade deal tan disadvantages such as internal competition, boost entrepreneurship and expand markets among other things.

Ratification phase

If things work as planned, the African continental free trade will go operational on May 30, 2019, 30 days after attaining the 22 thresholds needed for implication. As at April 2019, the last country got parliamentary approval for the ratification of the AfCTA. The following nations also so far approved or ratified the trade agreement and deposited the ratification instruments with the African Union Commission, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Niger, Djibouti, Chad, Congo Republic, Guinea, eSwatini, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Saharawi Republic.

In a nutshell, the African continental free trade agreement means a lot for the African continent, in spite of all the preliminary challenges, the AfCFTA will assemble all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of over 1.2 billion people and gross domestic product of above US$3.4 trillion, a potential largest free trade zone globally in terms of number. As per the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), intra-African trade is expected to increase by 52.3% by 2020 under the AfCFTA.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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