Big Issues as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement kicks off

KENYA, Mombasa: Photograph taken by the Kenyan Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism (MEAACT) 31 July shows a general view of containers inside Mombasa Port on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. MANDATORY CREDIT: MEAACT PHOTO / STUART PRICE.

By Fortune Abang
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) kicked off on Jan.1, 2021. Nigeria is a signatory, as President Muhammadu Buhari signed the agreement on Sunday, July 7, 2019 at the opening of the 12th Extra Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government, held in Niamey, Niger Republic.

The main objectives of AfCFTA include: To create a continental market for goods and services with free movement of people and capital, as well as pave the way for creating a Customs Union.

It is also expected to grow intra-African trade through better harmonisation and coordination of trade liberalisation across the continent.

However, many stakeholders doubted the smooth take-off of the AfCFTA. They hinged their worries on the fact that many member countries of the AfCFTA, including Nigeria, lacked adequate border facilities. So far, of the 55 AU member states, only Eritrea was yet to sign

They say that porous borders will promote smuggling, trade war and other disputes.

In spite inauguration of AfCFTA at the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Niamey, on July 7, 2019 and its current operational phase, those who spoke doubted reality of such goals, while others commended it, considering the operational instruments

The AfCFTA operational instruments are: Rules of Origin; The Online Negotiating Forum; The Monitoring and Elimination of Non-tariff barriers; Digital Payments System and the African Trade Observatory.

Some said that although Nigeria signed the agreement establishing AfCFTA and President Muhammadu Buhari’s had constituted a National Action Committee (NAC) to implement the trade, lack of adequate customs procedures and infrastructure to facilitate tariff-free trade, fast and efficient transit of goods, still posed concerns.

Other, however, expressed confidence in the Federal Government’s ability to implement the landmark trade agreement, while commending it for reopening four land borders, namely: Seme, South-West, Ilela, North-West, Maigatari borders in the North-West and North-Central, and Mfum in the South-South.

Prof. Jonah Onuoha, Head of Political Science Department, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), who spoke on the issue, said that in spite commencement of AfCFTA trading, strategic measures should be put in place to check immigrants against widespread of COVID-19 pandemic.

Onuoha, a professor of political science noted that carriers of COVID-19 could cross borders into Nigeria, hence the need for adequate security and medical measures, to ensure immigrants coming into the country are medically fit.

Onuoha said: “Earlier closure of the land borders had positive and negative effects; on positive note, closure of the borders helped to contain smuggling of goods into Nigeria.

“It reduced political violence, burgling and also enabled local farmers to sell goods and services; on the negative side; it cut out Nigeria from international community, restricted movements and violated ECOWAS protocol.

“Government must note that reopening borders, amid AfCFTA increases level of smuggling of goods and services, undermines local farmers’ productivity, and endangers security and therefore calls for measures, before borders are properly opened.

“Strengthening inter-border relations or trade cooperation is one thing, but the security of Nigerians is another thing, because it can increase the volume of COVID-19 infection and also movement of terrorists across the country.”

On the other hand, Amb. Ganiyu Lawal, President of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN), lauded government for reopening its land borders.

He said that such gesture proved that government places priority on the welfare and security of Nigerians, adding that a lot could be achieved economically through opening of the land borders.

“Reopening of the borders is a commendable effort that shows that the government is listening, monitoring, and taking into consideration, the welfare and security of Nigerians.

”Without getting good grasps of readiness for AfCFTA and emergency operational response to whatever outcome to start trading, Nigeria will not have opened the border, we commend the government,” Lawal said.

On resolving `trade wars,’ Mr Chukwuemeka Nnaji, President of Nigerian Union of Traders Association in Ghana (NUTAG), said that AfCFTA implementation would reduce harassment of Nigerians by Ghanaian traders.

According to him, Nigerian traders will benefit, because Nigeria is the major source of imports from Ghana and other neighbouring countries.

Nnaji said: “The AfCFTA implementation is a welcome idea, because it is going to help us grow our businesses.

“We really suffered during lockdown, some of our members lost big sums of money and other valuables, the start of the Agreement will help to an extent in stopping Ghanaian traders from harassing us

“In 2019, they harped on closure of borders by Nigerian government as reason for harassment, since the borders are now opened, they cannot do that because Ghana and Nigeria trade wars did not originate from border closure.”

On implementation of the Agreement, Mr Francis Anatogu, Secretary, National Action Committee (NAC), said that series of strategy workshops were held for stakeholders in the agriculture, transport, oil and gas and other key sectors of the economy.

Anatogu, a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Sector, said that with commencement of AfCFTA, clamour for diversification of our economy would be a thing of the past.

“As a committee, we are now working towards ways Nigeria can properly utilise business doors being offered by AfCFTA.”

“It provides us that opportunity that we always yearn for; to diversify our export base because the opportunity is there in Africa and the Africa market is huge.

“Africa imports most of its manufactured products from the rest of the world, so AfCFTA provides opportunity to industrialise; it provides opportunity for us to diversify our economy,” he said.

African leaders knew that AfCFTA has potential to boost socio-economic relationships across the continent in spite challenges associated with free trade and porous land borders.

Stakeholders should cooperate and collaborate to address the challenges in order to reap the gains envisaged in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. NANFeatures )

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