In a fortnight, it will be 10 months since the historic summit of African leaders to inaugurate the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement in Kigali, Rwanda. Forty-four African nations attended and signed that epochal agreement, which promises to create a single African market for goods and services as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and business travellers.
Nigeria neither attended the summit nor signed the agreement on the excuse that the nation needed to study the ramifications of the agreement to ensure that everything conformed with what Nigeria considered to be in its own national interest before appending its signature to the document. It is a matter of deep regret that Nigeria is still unable to sign this agreement. We believe that this is indeed the right time for the Federal Government to sign the continental trade agreement that will boost the economies of AU-member countries.
The world is cheering the AfCFTA and encouraging its operation as one of the vital tools to increase inter-African trade and raise the continent from the morass of poverty. The World Trade Organization (WTO) which knows something about international trade has given its support. Eminent Africans, including Nigeria’s former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, have been critical of the Federal Government’s foot-dragging on the AfCFTA.
Nigeria should realise the numerous benefits of the AfCFTA. Apart from expanding access for Nigeria’s exporters of goods and services, it is generally believed that the continental trade will spur growth and boost job creation in the country. Most importantly, it will eliminate barriers against Nigeria’s products and provide a dispute settlement mechanism for ending hostile and discriminatory treatment directed against Nigerian business persons in other African countries. Besides, it will establish rules-based trade governance in intra-African trade that will invoke trade remedies, such as safeguards, anti-dumping and countervailing duties against unfair trade practices, amongst others. For Africa, it is estimated that the trade will cover a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion. Nigeria must be part of the continental trade for so many reasons. The issue was essentially the outcome of many continental deliberations most of which originated in Nigeria and were led by Nigerian officials. The 1980 Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa envisaged the AfCFTA. The Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community extended the Lagos Plan. When in January 2012 the African Union took the final step in the development of Free Trade Area, Nigeria was in the forefront. It took eight rounds of negotiations, mostly led by Nigerian officials including the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah.
In 2063 when the African Union aims to unify the continent and abolish the visa as entry requirement, Nigeria must be part of it. The delay in signing the AfCFTA agreements has placed a huge question mark on Nigeria’s standing in Africa and its leadership. It has also robbed us of our historic consistency in Afrocentric policy and being a “frontline state.”
The fear of “dumping” and other economic arguments are untenable. These arguments ought to have been resolved by now. While we ought to listen to the anxieties of vested interests and organizations like organized labour, the chambers of commerce and the manufacturing associations, we ought to be looking at the big picture. AfCFTA promises a massive transformation of the continent, creating new markets, expanding customer base and encouraging new products and services.
It will drive economic growth and create a bigger manufacturing sector with more well-paying jobs. Foreign direct investments would push for expansion and the increase in all-round efficiency.
Therefore, we call on the Federal Government to sign the AfCFTA treaty so that Nigeria can be part of the emerging continental trade that will be beneficial to the economy. As one of the emerging economies in Africa, we must be part of the trade. The time to sign the treaty is now.