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How to make Africa’s free trade deal work for Nigeria

By Terhemba Daka (Abuja), Femi Adekoya, Femi Ibirogba (Lagos) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
08 July 2019   |   4:28 am
With Nigeria’s joining of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) a done deal, the country’s chances of benefitting from the treaty...

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (C) reacts after signing a landmark free trade agreement ahead of the African Union summit at the palais des Congres in Niamey, on July 7, 2019. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is expected to be officially launched later on July 7, 2019 in what AU commission chairman Moussa Faki said would be a “historic” moment. ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

• Experts task govt on infrastructure for competitive manufacturing
• Buhari signs treaty, vows to sustain country’s leadership role

With Nigeria’s joining of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) a done deal, the country’s chances of benefitting from the treaty could depend on how ingeniously it gets its economic acts together.

At exactly 10:47 a.m. yesterday in Niamey, Niger Republic, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the agreement in the presence of African Heads of State and Government, delegates and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the media at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on Launch of the Operational Phase of the AfCFTA.

The move brought to an end the months of delay and heated debates among stakeholders on the propriety or otherwise of Nigeria jumping on the trade bandwagon.

Buhari acknowledged this when he said: “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.”

On his country’s initial restraint, he explained: “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.”

He promised that Nigeria would “sustain its strong leadership role in Africa, in the implementation of the AfCFTA.”

He also noted: “Nigeria wishes to emphasise that free trade must also be fair trade” and that “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.”

How to achieve these goals meanwhile have got economic experts talking.

“The gains depend on the ability of Nigeria to push its goods across borders. The question is, can we push? What do we export to other African countries? They are basically vessels and other floating structures, electrical energy, cement, pasta and refined petroleum products. So, our gains depend on how offensive we can be in pushing tradable goods abroad,” said Dr. Solomon Olakojo of the Department of Economics, University of Ibadan.

A former consultant to the World Bank, Dr. Samson Olalere, told The Guardian: “For this to be advantageous to Nigeria, the industrial sector of the economy has to be improved upon. The implication of the signing is that Nigeria will become a dumping ground for goods from better industrially developed countries who are signatories to the said agreement.

“For the country to benefit, it has to lay serious emphasis on infrastructural development. The energy sector has to be improved upon to boost productivity and enhance lower cost of production in the industrial sector. This is in order to be able to compete favourably in the market space that will be provided across African countries with effective implementation of the agreement.”

Mansur Ahmed, President of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), said infrastructure for competitive manufacturing and industrial development such as electricity generation and distribution, good road networks and financial facilities to the real sectors of the economy should be enhanced by the government to maximise the advantages in the pact.

He called for adequate provisions for tracking the origin of products coming to Nigeria and advised that 70 to 80 per cent of raw materials of products coming to Nigeria must be sourced from Africa, while finished products coming to Nigeria must be made in Africa. This, according to him, would deepen the industrial sectors in Africa.

Prof. Femi Mimiko of the Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, expressed the hope that Nigeria would be smart enough to leverage the agreement to extend its influence into other areas of the African ecosystem.

He warned that AfCFTA could make Nigeria a dumpsite for goods produced abroad. It might also facilitate the penetration of the continent by more established, bigger and more formidable regional integration arrangements like the EU, which may climb on the back of countries like Morocco, with which they already have some unique collaborative arrangement.

“Such would not be good for the continent,” Mimiko insisted. “And this is where the need to strengthen the African state, now working as a collective, comes in. We would need to imbue the African state with greater capacity to administer all the dimensions of this agreement.”

On his part, president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Babatunde Ruwase, said safeguards, soft and hard infrastructure including viable ICT policies must be activated to maximise the potential benefits of the treaty.

He urged the government to maximise benefits accruable from consumers and market right of access to multiple and diversified products and services, and seek protection against abusive and injurious parties in and outside Nigeria, based on ongoing capacity expansion of trade laws.