Nigeria, S’Africa Stay Away as 44 African Countries Sign Trade Treaty Deal

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• Buhari: We are yet to understand security, economic implications of AfCFTA

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja with agency report

The two biggest economies in Africa, Nigeria and South Africa, were wednesday conspicuously absent as 44 leaders of African countries signed a deal to create one of the world’s largest free trade blocs.

The agreement was signed at a summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, according to the BBC.

It is hoped the deal would come into force within six months, and increase prosperity for 1.2 billion Africans.
But 10 countries, including Nigeria, have refused to sign the deal, and it would need to be ratified by all the signatories’ national parliaments before the bloc becomes a reality.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would remove barriers to trade, like tariffs and import quotas, allowing the free flow of goods and services between its members.

In theory, that should boost commerce, growth and employment.
African Union Commission Head, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called it a “glorious challenge… which calls for the courage to believe, the courage to dare… the courage to achieve.”

He then recognised that to succeed, the countries will “need to summon the required political will.”
Trade between African countries is relatively low. It accounts for only 10 per cent of all commerce on the continent – compared with 25 per cent in South-east Asia – according to news agency Reuters.

Once the free trade area is established, the ambition is to take further steps that echo the creation of the European Union – like a customs union, a common market, and even a single currency, Matthew Davies, editor of the BBC’s Africa Business Report said.

He said many obstacles still have to be overcome.
One is the relatively low level of manufacturing that takes place on a continent where trade often means selling raw materials to the outside world.
Another is getting Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, on board. President Muhammadu Buhari pulled out of the summit, after “certain key stakeholders” – thought to mean trade unions and businesses – complained they had not been consulted.

The African Union said it hoped those countries with reservations would be persuaded to sign at a later date.
Meanwhile, President Buhari yesterday in Abuja said he withdrew from the plan to sign the AfCFTA agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, because he discovered that the country was yet to understand the security and economic implications of the treaty.

Briefing journalists at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in the State House, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the president told the council that he also declined signing the agreement because he would not be party to anything that could encourage dumping of finished goods in Nigeria.

Adesina who said the council had consequently constituted a committee to review the proposal of CFTA, added that the president also said Nigeria pulled out of the African Union Extraordinary meeting where the agreement was signed yesterday by 44 of 55 African countries because he would never encourage anything that could hinder entrepreneurship as well as the interests of Nigerian entrepreneurs

He listed members of the committee to include the Ministries of Finance, Labour, Foreign Affairs, Science and Technology and Budget and National Planning as well as Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). He said the committee was given two weeks to conclude its assignment and report its findings to the council.

“The explanation from the president which the FEC bought was that he would not want to agree to anything that would hinder local entrepreneurs. And on the surface, except if proven wrong, is that that agreement has the capacity to affect local entrepreneurship.

“Then, he also said that anything that could encourage the dumping of finished goods in Nigeria was going to be contrary to our interest. So, it is one of the reasons while he declined. Then he said the country is yet to fully understand the economic and security implications of the agreement.

“So, there has to be further consultations with different stakeholders and the final position was that a committee be set up to meet and review the contents of that proposal and they will do it within two weeks and get back to the Federal Executive Council. The committee which has two weeks to submit its report will be expected to look at the security implications of the agreement,” Adesina said.

In his own briefing, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Mohammed Bello, said the council also approved N6.9 billion for the completion of the United Nations building that was bombed by Boko Haram in 2011.
Bello who said the project would be completed in 12 months, stated that Nigeria’s decision to rebuild the damaged part of the structure was in line with UN’s principle, saying the reconstruction will include the installation of important equipment such as body scanners and close circuit television (CCTV) cameras to forestall a repeat of the disaster.

Also briefing, the Minister of State (Aviation), Hadi Sirika, said council also approved very high radio equipment for the improvement of radio communications between pilots and the tower at the cost of N1.1billion.
According to Sirika, the equipment which would be installed in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and some other airports, will help the country to deal with the problem of inadequate radio communications which he described as an important tool for safety.