Following EU’s dangerous fossil gas push will put Africa in danger - AU
The African Heads of States and Governments pose during African Union (AU) Summit for the agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018. AFP PHOTO

By Emeka Ejere

With just about three weeks to the January 1 take-off date for trading on the platform of the emergent African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, the concern is mounting across Nigeria with many business owners frantically trying to understand how the scheme would run and how best they can take advantage of it.

This s coming on the heels of the development at the weekend when a Nigerian delegation that included the Special Representative of Nigeria to the African Union and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Sector Matters, and Secretary of the National Action Committee on the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, Mr. Francis Anatogu, formally deposited the instruments of ratification of the treaty at the African Union secretariat at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

This deposit session came on the heels of the momentous event follows on the heels of the Federal Executive Council’s recommendation that the country could go ahead to ratify the landmark treaty which is expected to boost trade among African countries and free movement of persons within Africa. It is also being hoped by the Nigerian authorities that the coming into effect of the treaty would provide a variable opportunity for Africa’s largest economy to demonstrate ‘to the world her economic leadership position where her resources will be used to drive the vanguard of intra-trade on the African continent.’

It will be recalled that President MuhammaduBuhari, had after a year of dithering, finally agreed to ratify the AfCFTA Agreement in July 2019.

With this development, Nigeria becomes the 34th African nation to deposit their instrument of ratification, a move that the AfCFTA Nigeria secretariat says, ‘finally solidifies her mission to lead a single market for goods and services.’

However, business places and trade analysts say that while it is commendable that the nation has now crossed the clearly inevitable Rubicon, the first import of the move really should be in focusing on the imperative of ‘infrastructure connectivity for accelerated and sustainable success remaining key.’

In addition, attention is also being called to the need to ‘empower the Nigerian Customs Service, the Nigerian Export Processing Zone and other allied agencies so they can upscale their operations and robustly take their place in

Ensuring that the nation can seamlessly and competitively prepare its goods and services for export under the terms of the treaty.

‘We must work hard to bridge the infrastructure deficit; and we must genuinely engage the organised private sector in facilitation, financing and ease of doing business,’ a trade analyst deposed.

Upbeat over the continued march of progress as regards the implementation and take-off of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), AU Heads of States Chair and President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the agreement signals the commencement of a new era of progress in the continent.

Ramaphosa, who was addressing member heads of states during an extra-ordinary virtual session ahead of the take-off of the scheme said:

“The commencement of trading under the AfCFTA on the 1st of January is one of the most significant milestones in the continental integration project.”

“The AfCFTA will boost intra-African trade, it will promote industrialisation and competitiveness and contribute to job creation, and it will unleash regional value chains that will facilitate Africa’s meaningful integration into the global economy.”

“In the context of global developments on trade, including threats to the multilateral system, the AfCFTA is more critical than ever.”

Another African leader who played a yeoman’s role in the emergence of AfCFTA is President Paul Kagame.

Reminiscing on the journey so far, the Rwandan leader said:

“Two years ago we signed a historic agreement and together wrote a new chapter in the story of African integration. The Covid pandemic has delayed the start of trading. But we must stay on course…Let’s get on with it.”

“In #Africa, we will start trading among ourselves in a few weeks. This collaborative action is now more important than ever to rebuild our economies and Africa’s resilience to future shocks…”

We need the private sector to be fully involved…and continue to communicate the benefits of #AfCFTA to our citizens, especially young people, mobilise them to remain engaged for the next phases of African integration.”

On his part, Nigeria’s President Buhari is calling for increased collaboration between Nigeria and South Africa to strengthen African development.

According to him, improved relations between Africa’s two largest economies will boost development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

He was speaking as he received Mr. GwedeMantashe, South Africa’s Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, who had come with a special message from President Ramaphosa to him in State House, Abuja.

While the other details of the discussions were not made available to the press immediately, some of the remarks made however suggested that the visit may be related to a continued easing of xenophobic tensions between Nigeria and South Africa as well as possible South African requests related to Nigeria’s oil sector.

Hear President Buhari:

“There was this ‘small problem’ between our countries. I went there and we resolved it.” The Nigerian leader also revealed that he had directed Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, to work with his South African counterpart on the requests he brought and report back to him for action.

It will be recalled that AfCFTA has set itself the goal of creating a single market that would better guarantee trade in goods and services as well as the movement of persons across Africa.

Under the scheme, member states are expected to list their top export trade items and Nigeria, for example, has presently listed its top exports for trade under the agreement to include products and services in Agriculture, Oil and Gas, Mining and Tourism.

Commenting on the progress recorded this far and the prospects for Nigeria in the scheme, a banker, OluwoleOlusanya agreed that though AfCFTA is a wonderful initiative to ensure that Africa trades with Africa, however, the immediate reality is that Nigeria will not be able to tap the AfCFTA potential in its fullest because of our own problems.

‘Fixing Nigeria problems before now would have made AfCFTA a wonderful opportunity for growth and expansion, he said.’

He listed the challenges to include electrical power generation, corruption, multiple taxation and insecurity and asked that now that we are in, we should brace to address them:

‘It is the best time to fix our power problems for any country that is serious about tapping into AfCFTA. Insecurity is also something we also have to confront headlong. Businesses can still grapple with the other challenges but power and insecurity are the two issues we have to fix immediately.’

After the EndSARS protests, is AfCFTA a second external drive that has been sent to push an arguably lacklustre leadership into taking action? Time will tell.

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