Nigeria at the weekend in Niamey, Niger Republic, officially joined the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed the agreement at the opening of the African Union (AU) Summit.
This is coming as the President of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Babatunde Ruwase, yesterday hailed Nigeria’s membership of AfCFTA and commended Buhari for signing the agreement.
The president’s spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a statement, said Buhari signed the treaty at exactly 10: 47a.m. in the presence of other African heads of state and governments, delegates and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the media, which attended the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on the launch of the Operational Phase of the AfCFTA.
The phase one of the agreement was adopted by African Union (AU) Heads of State and Governments at its 10th Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018.
But Nigeria pulled out of the agreement signing ceremony at the last minute, following agitations from the private sector that the agreement would make Nigeria a dumping ground for goods and services in Africa.
Consequently, the president set up a committee to make wider consultations on the agreement with a view to coming up with recommendations on whether Nigeria should join AfCFTA or not.
The committee, while submitting its report on June 27, advised Buhari to sign the agreement, listing a number of factors, which aided the committee’s recommendations and the benefits accruable from it.
Shortly after signing the agreement yesterday, the president, according to the statement, declared that Nigeria’s commitment to trade and African integration had never been in doubt neither had it ever been under any threat.
The statement added that Buhari told the summit that Nigeria would build on yesterday’s signing of the treaty by proceeding expeditiously with the ratification of the AfCFTA.
‘‘Nigeria wishes to emphasise that free trade must also be fair trade. 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,” Buhari said, adding: “I wish to assure you that Nigeria shall sustain its strong leadership role in Africa, in the implementation of the AfCFTA. We shall also continue to engage, constructively with all African countries to build the Africa that we want.”
The statement, which copiously quoted the president on his observations on the agreement, also said the president congratulated Ghana on its selection to host the Secretariat of the AfCFTA, while describing the signing of the agreement on behalf of Nigeria as an honour.
The president recalled his hesitation to sign last year, explaining it was due to reservations at home.
He said he subsequently extensively consulted and sensitized the stakeholders, adding that the outcome was a buy in by all concerned.
“Our consultations and assessments reaffirmed that the AfCFTA can be a platform for African manufacturers of goods and providers of service to construct regional value chains for made in Africa goods and services,” Buhari said, adding: “It was also obvious that we have a lot of work to do to prepare our nation to achieve our vision for intra-African trade, which is the free movement of ‘made in Africa goods.’
According to him, “Some of the critical challenges that we identified will require our collective action as a union and we will be presenting them for consideration at the appropriate AfCFTA fora.
“Examples are tackling injurious trade practices by third parties and attracting the investment we need to grow local manufacturing and service capacities.”
Adesina also quoted Buhari as saying that Nigeria’s signing of the AfCFTA and its operational launch at the 12th Extraordinary Summit was an additional major step forward on the AU’s Agenda 2063.
According to him, with Nigeria and Benin Republic signing the agreement at the Niger summit, 54 of 55 African countries had signed the world’s largest free trade area deal, encompassing 55 countries and 1.2 billion people, noting that Eritrea is the only African country yet to sign the agreement.
In addition, a total of 26 African countries have deposited instruments of ratification, with Gabon being the latest, after depositing her instrument of ratification during the extraordinary summit.
LCCI Hails Nigeria’s Membership
Meanwhile, the President of LCCI, Ruwase, while speaking in a telephone interview with THISDAY yesterday, commended the president for signing the agreement.
He said: “It is something we have been talking about at the LCCI. We believe it is going to open a lot of opportunities for Nigeria as a country. We have a lot to offer Africa.
“Yes, we have problem with our manufacturing sector because of the challenges of power and infrastructure, but we believe this is something we can deal with.
“But in other areas such as finance, our financial institutions are doing very well. We are number one in Africa and Nigerian banks have continued to spread. We are very good in commerce and Nigeria can take advantage of this agreement to take advantage of other markets in the continent.
“We also have our creative industry which is well known, even beyond Africa. So, for us, these were things we saw in the past and have been encouraging the federal government to sign the agreement.”
According to Ruwase, Nigeria cannot continue to build its industries with protectionism.
“Instead of protecting industries against competition, firms should be allowed to face competition in the continent squarely.
“The way to face competition is to understand how it operates, look at the weak points, which might be your strong points and work on it,” he said. This Day