Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammad Buhari yesterday signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement at the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union on AfCFTA and the First Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union AU and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Niamey, Niger Republic.
This is even as he assures that Nigeria will build on the event by proceeding expeditiously with the ratification of the AfCFTA.
The President signed the agreement at exactly 10.47 am local time, in the presence of African Heads of State and Government, delegates and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the media making Nigeria the 53rd state on the continent to append its signature to the document.
The AfCFTA Agreement entered into force on May 30, 2019, 30 days after having received the 22nd instrument of ratification on 29 April, 2019 in conformity with legal provision.
Buhari had delayed in signing the agreement to give room for extensive consultations with stakeholders, culminating in the submission of the report by the Presidential Committee to Assess Impact and Readiness of Nigeria to join the free trade area.
The committee had recommended that Nigeria should sign the agreement which aims to boost intra-African trade.
Twenty four 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.
In his remarks shortly after signing the agreement, the President declared that Nigeria’s commitment to trade and African integration have never been in doubt nor was it ever under threat.
Buhari said: “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 said.
President Buhari also congratulated Ghana on being selected to host the Secretariat of the AfCFTA.
The President stated: “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 noted that Nigeria’s signing of the AfCFTA and its Operational Launch at the 12th Extraordinary Summit was an additional major step. forward on the AU’s Agenda 2063.
According to a statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina,with Nigeria and Benin Republic signing the Agreement at the Summit, 54 out of 55 African countries have signed the world’s largest free trade area deal, encompassing 55 countries and 1.2 billion people.
Eritrea is the only African country yet to sign the agreement.
A total of 26 African countries have deposited instruments of ratification, with Gabon being the latest after depositing her instrument of ratification during the Extraordinary Summit.
The Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union also launched the operational instruments of the Agreement establishing AfCFTA.
The instruments include: AfCFTA Rules of Origin, Tariff Concession Portals, Portal on Monitoring and Elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers, Digital Payments and Clearing Systems and African Trade and Observatory Dashboard.