AfCFTA: Handling the challenge of commitment
This edition of the AfCFTA Implementation Strategies is focused on commitment on the part of the government. The commitment of the president and all the government agencies are very critical element in the implementation programme. This needs to be demonstrated to the private sector in order to encourage them to invest their time, energy and money to take full advantage of the AfCFTA. To demonstrate this commitment, the presidency needs to put this on the front burner in all the activities of the president by mentioning it in all his economic-related speeches at different functions and programmes he attends within and outside the country. This will make his ministers be able to give the required support to the AfCFTA implementation committee and therefore ensuring that their ministry, departments and agencies are not a clog in the wheel of progress of the AfCFTA.
I strongly believe the first step that the government needs to take as a way of demonstrating commitment towards the AfCFTA is the appointment of a Special Assistant (SA) on Trade Across Borders who will work directly with the AfCFTA implementation committee. Such as a person will attend all their meetings, carrying their requests to the presidency, liaise with the various heads of ministries, departments and agencies. This special assistant is going to be a critical success factor in the implementation of AfCFTA because it will speed up the submission and approval of the request at the presidency because someone is on ground to represent the implementation committee and follow up on the government for necessary approvals.
Secondly, the government has to demonstrate its commitment to the implementation of AfCFTA by making deliberate policies that will encourage the exporters to want to export. This can be done through executive orders and acts of the parliament. Considering the high level of infrastructure deficit that any business operating in Nigeria has to contend with and the attendant increase in the cost of doing business that ensues, the government must of necessity put a system in place to give incentives to exporters. These incentives should come in the form of single-digit loan for all exports going to African countries under the AfCFTA, rebate on air and sea freight, warehousing, local transport, duty on the importation of raw materials and other statutory taxes. There should also be a deliberate policy towards the setting up of dedicated AfCFTA export terminals at major ports across the country. This is to ensure that goods being shipped under this scheme are examined for compliance and also given speedy clearance.
One of the major challenges being faced by the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), which has consequently led to the low outcome of the scheme, is the inefficient processes that exporters need to go through in order to get the certificate of origin that makes their products eligible for the duty-free access under the ETLS. In order to demonstrate its commitment to ensuring a successful of the AfCFTA, the government needs to ensure that the process of obtaining the certificate of origin under the AfCFTA is fully automated, streamlined and paperless. There should be an online platform for tracking and feedback on the progress of the application, devoid of any form of human interaction besides the visit to the production facility to ascertain the claim of the criteria for the rule of origin.
Also, it is very important to state that one of the factors that could prevent Nigeria and Nigerians from enjoying the benefits of AfCFTA is product quality issues. The committee must demonstrate its commitment to preventing the exportation of low-quality products by ensuring that it closely works with the relevant government agencies at the port, especially the Nigeria Customs Service, to ensure that all goods to be shipped under AfCFTA are routed via the AfCFTA designated terminals where they will be inspected for quality assurance before they are shipped to final destinations on the African continent. Another way of demonstrating a commitment to the successful implementation of the AfCFTA in Nigeria is by putting in place a policy that ensures the participation of the private sector in the Monitoring of items that are being imported into the Nigerian markets duty-free under AfCFTA.
What is the use of all the effort being deployed by the government and the implementation committee if the manufacturers cannot get to promote their products in other African countries simply because of the cost and logistics challenges? The government has to demonstrate its commitment to the AfCFTA by organising a solo exhibition in targeted countries on the African continents by partnering with Chambers of Commerce in the destination countries and also supporting Nigerian businesses with funds needed to participate in these various promotional programmes.