Nigeria and the African Continental Free Trade Area

African Continental Free Trade Area

In April 2019, Gambia ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), helping the AfCFTA reach its twenty-two member threshold. It means the trade area will take off later this year with or without Nigeria.

It is a shame that Nigeria has not yet signed nor ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). We must now do so or risk being left behind by the rest of the continent.

Curiously, Nigeria’s reasons for refusing to sign the trade treaty, in which its international trade policy expert was the lead negotiator, was that it does not want to become a dumping ground for goods from African and European countries, who would use smaller countries to gain free entry into the Nigerian market. “We will not agree to anything that will undermine local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, or that may lead to Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for finished goods,” President Buhari tweeted while declining to sign the treaty last year. The special adviser to the president on Media and publicity, added subsequently that the president said the country is yet to fully understand the economic and security implications of the agreement.

This only brings to focus the embarrassing lack of coordination within the Federal Government and its agents. Does it mean that on such an important issue, policy papers and memoranda had not been previously read by the President and Vice President before the crucial FEC meeting that ratified the treaty? Does it mean that the Vice President did not consult the President to know his thoughts before leading the entire cabinet to ratify a treaty with which their Principal disagreed?

What do we make of the fact that the globally-respected trade policy expert, Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe, who led Nigeria’s negotiations and played a very significant role in bringing African countries to achieve this momentous milestone, must now be extremely embarrassed that his President never believed in the job he was tapped and mandated to spearhead.

And what exactly are Nigerian manufacturers afraid of? What have we been for imports from China and South East Asia all these decades? Which African country has a greater manufacturing/trade capacity than Nigeria outside South Africa? What does South Africa “dump” in Nigeria that harms us? The treaty is also not merely about goods. What about services? What about intellectual property? These are areas in which Nigeria enjoys significant advantages. However, by refusing to ratify the African Trade Treaty, we have effectively ranged ourselves against all our major trading partners. This is almost like our own Brexit, except that the President’s decision to act against the advice of his entire Cabinet lacks a credible basis.

Does the government realise that in Africa, it has, perhaps, the largest number of its citizens living and doing business in other African countries? Does it realise that perhaps, beside South Africa, it has the largest number of its banks and companies pursuing internationalisation programmes in other African states? What will become the fate of Nigeria’s biggest industrialist now operating in over fourteen African countries?

Perhaps, the president needs to consider the benefits of the AfCFTA to Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The AfCFTA has the potentials to permanently change Africa’s fortune from dependence on assistance to increased trade. Intra-African trade, which currently stands at only 10 percent, is the lowest in the world and one of the chief reasons for Africa’s backwardness. Our salvation ultimately lies in trading amongst ourselves and consequently developing our economies and not in isolationism as Nigeria is tending towards.

Although rumours from the presidency has it that the president will sign the agreement before the implementation, we cannot be consoled by rumours. The president needs to sign the treaty now. It is a shame that Nigeria that should be leading such initiatives, now finds itself struggling to follow from behind.

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