The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is set to commence but the continent’s biggest market may not be part of it.
Last month, The Gambia joined 21 other countries to ratify a continental trade agreement that is set to create the largest trade zone in the world and increase intra-African trade by 52 percent by 2022 and remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods.
The Gambia joined South Africa, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, Burundi, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, and Botswana, among others, which have ratified the agreement to support the commencement of the largest trade agreement since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1994.
The AfCFTA treaty was signed by African Union (AU) countries on the 21st of March 2018 in an AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
However, the signing of the agreement still needed to be ratified by the parliaments of at least 22 member states of the AU to come into force. Nigeria and many countries in North Africa are still consulting and may be left out of the party.
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria(MAN) believes ratifying the agreement could kill industries in the country. The body with over 2,500 manufacturers say the country’s leadership is yet to do a cost-benefit analysis on the impact of the trade treaty.
“Right from the period preceding the Kigali Summit and up until now, the content of the Nigerian offer has remained unknown to manufacturers who are the number one stakeholders to be positively and or negatively impacted by the proposition,” Frank Jacobs, former president of MAN, said in Lagos in the second quarter of 2018.
But the chambers of commerce say the treaty is more important to Nigeria than any other African country.
“Our position is that our dear country should sign the AfCFTA. While we continue to address the issues around it, and work on a strategy for implementation to tackle the problems, we should sign the agreement now,”Iyalode Alaba Lawson, national president of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), said in Lagos in July 2018.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) had, in late May 2018, backed the trade deal, stating that if smaller African countries were not afraid of it, Nigeria with 198 million people and humongous $430 billion GDP, had no business shying away from inking it.
“I don’t see anything to be afraid of,” Babatunde Paul Ruwase, president of LCCI, said at a stakeholders’ consultative forum on AfCFTA in Lagos that month.
“If smaller countries are not afraid of it, we should have no fear to be there,” he added.
On July 17, 2018, Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice president, at the 8th Presidential Quarterly Business Forum held in Abuja, expressed concerns about AfCFTA, recalling the country’s experience with dumping and other injurious practices which he said made it obvious to Nigeria that its market could be a real target.