Amechi Ogbonna, Cairo, Egypt
Nigeria’s former president and chairman of the Advisory Board of the first Inter- Africa Trade Fair, (IATF), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday in Cairo, Egypt, decried the lethargic disposition of some African leaders including Nigeria, towards the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, (AfCFTA).
In his keynote address at the opening session of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) holding in the North African country, the former president lamented that trade between African countries stands at a paltry 15 per cent, compared to 59 per cent with Europe and 51 percent between Africa and Asia, as well as 37 percent with North America, while most of its leaders are sleeping over the situation.
This is coming as several key African countries are yet to sign the AfCFTA document more than nine months after the African Union heads of governments adopted the initiative in Kigali, Rwanda.
He, however, expressed optimism that the IATF currently ongoing in Egypt would raise Intra Africa’s poor record to about 22 per cent by 2021; and move it even higher with subsequent engagements.
Obasanjo said the economic integration policy remains a veritable platform for transforming the African economy through economic integration and trade improved relations.
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According to the former Nigerian leader, the trade fair is one of the strategies that the AU heads of government had adopted to promote economic integration of the continent, making it imperative for all African governments to sign and ratify the document. He argued that doing so would help standardise the African markets, identify their locations and also create avenues for enabling operators to key into the value chain of global trade to become more competitive.
He said the event provides a platform for information sharing that would enable buyers and sellers investors in the various countries meet, and discuss and conclude deals in excess of $27billion.
This, he said, would, in turn, raise Afreximbank’s goal of increasing Intra Africa Trade from $170billion in 2014 to about $250billion by 2021.
Obasanjo also touched on the issues issue of transactions settlement among the 55 African countries in the region which he said a common currency would be strategic to achieving the goals of economic integration.
“African leaders who have not signed the AfCFTA should know that there is no value in potentiality . Africa must be competitive and proactive to be able to count in the global economic order, not as “aid takers” but as people that matter economically ” .
Let us know ourselves better so that we can make AFRICA part of the global powerhouse,” he said. A minimum of 22 ratification are required to enable the AfCFTA to come into force, while 15 ratifications for the protocol on free movement of persons, right of residence and right of establishment are required.
The AfCFTA will be the largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, according to the AU.
It could create an African market of over 1.2 billion people with a GDP of $2.5 trillion:
In his address at the occasion, President Mr Benedict Okey Oramah’ commended the advisory committee and other stakeholders for their commitment in driving through the project despite the huge constraints. He said that Africa had made history with the hosting of the first Intra Africa Trade Fair and Exhibitions in the land of the Pharaohs and the cradle of civilization
“ We are gathered here over this week united . We will say never again will the limitations imposed by over a century of colonialism divide us as we can now look inward with pride . We are looking across our bothers to embrace change as we begin to dismantle the obstacles to economic integration and development mounted by centuries of colonialism “ Oramah said.
For his part, Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Siri, pledged to continually provide the enabling environment in support of Afrexim developmental initiatives in boosting African businesses in their effort to become more competitive on the global stage
The exhibition is expected to attract over 70000 visitors from Africa and across the world and would include about 1100 exhibitors with 4500 buyers and sellers