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AfCFTA Diary: SBL and the long road to signing

Seni Adio
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement was first signed in March 2018 by 44 African countries excluding Nigeria. This agreement, when ratified will become one of the world’s largest trading blocs. It is also the biggest trade agreement signed since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was established, bringing together 1.3 billion people with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $2 trillion in a single market.
Only a few days ago, Nigeria made the bold move to join Africa’s Free Trade Area, as President Muhammadu Buhari’s officially signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement at the summit of the African Union on Sunday, after a long-drawn and blustery attempt to “understand” the implications and impact of the AfCFTA on the Nigerian economy.
In this edition, we take a retrospective look at how Nigeria’s largest community of business lawyers – the NBA Section on Business Law (SBL), engaged and worked with the federal government in the last one year, to bring to fruition the signing of this strategic trade agreement.

MARCH 2018
Business lawyers join stakeholder consultations across Nigeria
The federal government inaugurated a nationwide stakeholder sensitisation team to engage them on the implications of signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement. The objective was to help government understand the true impact of the agreement on Nigeria and Nigerians based the existing domestic and regional policies as it relates to trade.
In carrying out this exercise, approximately no fewer than 34 groups and associations were sensitised and consulted, while approximately 3,017 natural persons were engaged in the various sessions and meetings.

The Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) was a critical part of these engagements.
The sensitisation witnessed the emergence of diverse opinions with many stakeholders supporting the AFCFTA. During these consultations, stakeholders raised key issues including need to check abuse of rules of origin, Smuggling arising from difficulties in border controls, un-quantified impacts of legacy preferential trade agreements, abuse of rule of origin, low capacity to conduct international trade, low capacity and capabilities of local business to conduct international trade, cost of finance, insufficient energy; infrastructure and transport logistics issues, to mention a few.

JUNE 27-29, 2018
SBL provides platform for AfCFTA engagement at 12th annual business law conference
…Bar associations to maximize opportunities from free trade
The Section on Business law (SBL) at its 12th annual business law conference in June 2018 provided a platform for further stakeholder consultations on the endorsement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Discussing the theme, ‘Bringing Down the Barriers: Law as a Vehicle for Intra-Africa Trade’, the conference resolved that bar associations and large law firms in Africa with the support of their governments, must position the legal profession to maximize the benefits of free trade by seizing the initiative to reorganize the profession and guide the inevitable disruption to the profession that will be enabled by the AfCFTA, artificial intelligence and local competition by global law firms.
It was also agreed that the Section on Business Law should deepen the understanding of trade law within Nigeria by establishing a specialist Trade Law Committee within its organisation and facilitate training seminars on international trade law and negotiations for public and private sector lawyers.
Since then, the Section has worked closely with the Nigeria Office Trade Negotiations (NOTN), and has been involved in all consultations and stakeholder engagements across the country towards the signing of the AfCFTA.
MONDAY OCTOBER 22, 2019
NBA-SBL Chairman, others inaugurated into AfCFTA committee for impact and readiness assessment
The Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section of Business Law (NBA-SBL), Seni Adio, SAN alongside other critical stakeholders, were on Monday October 22, 2018 inaugurated into the Presidential Committee for Impact and Readiness Assessment of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The committee was charged with the responsibility of addressing risks associated with signing the agreement. Its terms of reference include, the assessment of the potential costs and impact of the AfCFTA for Nigeria in relation to the benefits, identify the short, medium and long-term measures to prepare Nigerian businesses for the take-off of the AfCFTA trading bloc and a back-up plan that covers selected scenarios; and, review the trade remedy options to safeguard the Nigerian economy from predatory and other unfair trade practices
The scope of its impact assessment included, inter alia, the potential impact on government revenue (for weighted and non-trade weighted revenue), coherence between fiscal policy, structural and monetary policies. The assessment would also include impact on Nigerian businesses, domestically and regionally, for both trade in goods and trade in services.

OCTOBER 24, 2018
Validation of the Nigerian Draft Market Access Offer for Trade in Services
On October 24, 2018, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL), Seni Adio, SAN, as co-chairperson of the Nigerian Coalition of Services Industry (NCSI) was invited by the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN) to validate the Nigerian Draft Market Access Offer for Trade in Services (Schedule of Specific Commitment) – This is expected to have great impact on the AfCFTA.
In the photo below, Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe, Director General, NOTN, alongside an officer of the trade office, witness the signing by the Chairman of the NBA-SBL.

NOVEMBER 2-3, 2018
The Africa Trade Forum was hosted in Lagos by Nigeria’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, and co-hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), The Rockefeller Foundation, and the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law. The Forum brought together stakeholders from across the continent, from political and governance spheres, the private sector and entrepreneurs, philanthropies, academia, researchers, and development partners, to discuss the process for realizing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

AfCFTA across the continent 
The Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was signed in Kigali, Rwanda, at the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU), on 21st March 2018, while 49 Signatories and 7 Ratifications, have been witnessed so far. Since then, African Union (AU), in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA), had engaged in serious drive to sensitize stakeholders on AfCFTA. Thirteen (13) of the fifteen (15) Member-states of the ECOWAS are Signatories to the AfCFTA.

Growth opportunities for AfCFTA
Market opportunities for growth for Nigerian exporters of goods and services; scope for industrialization through economies of scale in a single market; the mechanism for resolving trade disputes; cooperative mechanisms for regulating and promoting intra-African trade; and, the AfCFTA as a platform for Nigeria’s continued leadership in Africa as Africa remains the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

Opportunities for business lawyers & trade experts
The Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business law (NBA-SBL), Seni Adio, SAN, at the last Africa Trade Forum in Lagos organised by Nigeria’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); the Rockefeller Foundation; and the African Union Commission (AUC), urged business lawyers and legal practitioners generally to stay at the forefront of ongoing reforms, as the signing of the AFCFTA is expected to open a new vista of opportunities not just for practitioners in the area of trade law but for all lawyers.
As stated earlier, the resolution at the 12th Annual Business Law Conference, was to the effect that bar associations across the continent, must position the legal profession to maximize the benefits of free trade by seizing the initiative to reorganize the profession and guide the inevitable disruption to the profession that will be enabled by the AfCFTA, artificial intelligence and local competition by global law firms.

 

Theodora Kio-Lawson