Nigeria and Reluctance to Join African Trade Agreement - PREMIUM TIMES
By Bassey Udo
Nigeria has again been urged to join the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
The AfCFTA is a treaty adopted by the African Union to take advantage of the over 1.2 billion population of the continent with a combined Gross Domestic Product of more than $2 trillion to create a single continental market for goods and services.
The idea for the treaty was mooted in 2012 following a resolution by the African Heads of State and Governments to create a single continental market for goods and services in member nations of the AU, with free movement of business persons and investments using a single currency.
Consultations and negotiations for establishing the treaty commenced in June 2015 during the 26th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly Heads of State and Government in Johannesburg, South Africa.
However, when the draft agreement was finally signed on March 21, 2018 at the 18th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Governments in Kigali, Rwanda, only 44 of the 55 African countries signed.
Prominent among those who did not sign the agreement are Nigeria and South Africa, two of the largest economies in the continent.
The Nigerian government said it was consulting Nigerians to ensure all concerns were addressed, and avoid signing an agreement that would not equitably represent the interest of Nigerians.
But, Nigeria's Chief Trade Negotiator & Director General, Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN), Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Chiedu Osakwe, said in a recent interview the country has, since last June 28, virtually concluded the negotiations and consultations with interest groups.
"The negotiations and consultations have basically been concluded. It was a hugely beneficial exercise. From both public and private sectors consulted, it was an unprecedented exercise in the way we have conducted trade by trade policy.
"Beyond that, there was significant nationwide support for Nigeria to go ahead with the agreement initiated by the AfCFTA," Mr Osakwe said.
He however said the actual decision to sign the agreement now resides with President Muhammadu Buhari.
But, while the President is being awaited to make the final decision, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) again urged Nigeria to join the group after appropriate consultations.
Executive Secretary of the Commission, Vera Songwe, in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday offered ECA's support to help the country join South Africa and 48 other countries in signing the AfCFTA.
Speaking at a symposium hosted by the ECA to celebrate the work and life of its late former Executive Secretary, Adebeyo Adedeji, Ms. Songwe said Nigeria signing the treaty would align with the late Mr Adedeji's dream for Africa.
"I think his (Adedeji's) dream was that of an Africa that trades with itself, an Africa where economic integration happens because it is important; because it is needed, is finally at our doorstep.
"If ever there was any legacy that ECA could have left for Prof. Adedeji, it is really to keep working on the AfCFTA. We are hoping Nigeria will join us as we work towards the continental free trade agreement. This really is the legacy for Africa," Ms. Songwe said.
At the recent African Union Summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, five countries that did not sign the agreement finally did so.
Those that joined the 44 other countries in signing the agreement were South Africa, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Burundi.
Ms Songwe described the formation of the AfCFTA as a "monumental task that will change the face of Africa."
"The rest of the world is watching us and they are not indifferent to Africa coming together as an economic power. This is really what Prof. Adedeji wanted, that Africa finally goes to the table of negotiations as1.2 billion people and say this is how Africa wants to negotiate," said Ms. Songwe.
She said the African Union Commission (AUC), the ECA and the African Development Bank (AfDB) were currently having discussions to look at 'what that architecture of a one Africa negotiating from an economic place of strength would look like'.
The ECA chief urged African countries to diversify their economies as a huge game-changer on the continent.
Underlining the significance of economic transformation and economic diversification, Ms. Songwe said the Europeans are today trading at 60 per cent amongst themselves, because they have diversified enough to do so.
She said the reason why African countries are unable to trade enough with each other was because their economies have continued to depend on the export of one or a few commodities or primary products like oil and cocoa.