By Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja

Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has declared that the participation of Nigeria and South Africa in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement would contribute to its success.

Obasanjo, who spoke weekend in Cairo, Egypt at a conference to announce arrangements for the inaugural Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2018) slated for the Egyptian capital between December 11 and 17, 2018, noted that Nigeria and South Africa’s participation in the AfCFTA, would contribute to the success of the agreement.

The former president, who is the Chairman of the IATF2018 Advisory Council, however, regretted that “the train has left the station”, adding that those countries that were yet to sign the agreement would have to catch up.

Obasanjo’s comment was an obvious reference to the two African economic giants, Nigeria and South Africa, which failed to sign the AfCTA agreement in March.

Nigeria had explained that it did not sign because it was consulting to ensure that endorsing AfCTA would not expose the country to a dumping ground.

On its part, South Africa said it will become a signatory to the agreement once the legality of the agreement has been processed and ratified by the South African parliament, cabinet and the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC)

The former Nigerian leader, noted that the the participation of Nigeria and South Africa would lead to its success.

The agreement to create AfCFTA was signed at an extraordinary summit in Kigali, Rwanda by representatives of 44 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states and expected to come into force within six months.

Speaking at the conference organised by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to announce arrangements for the inaugural Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2018), Obasanjo highlighted the different capabilities and resources of African countries.

He opined that larger economies, like Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa should play important roles in the transformation of the African continent.

IATF2018 is to be hosted by Egypt, through the Export Development Authority (EDA), and organised in collaboration with the African Union and several other partners.

The IATF is aimed at deepening trade ties among African countries and at supporting the implementation of the AfCFTA) Agreement.

Weekend’s conference in Cairo

featured a panel discussion entitled “Towards a Strategy for Deepening Trade Between Egypt and Africa”, with participation by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the Chairman of the IATF2018 Advisory Council.

Others were Tariq Qabeel, Minister of Trade and Industry of Egypt; Dr. Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank; and Ahmed el-Sewedy, Chairman of the Elsewedy Group, who represented the private sector.

In his remarks, the Afreximbank President, Oramah said that the IATF was being organised as part of initiatives by the bank to address the challenge of the low volume of intra-African trade, which he attributed largely to lack of market information on the continent.

He said that many African businesses were not aware that some of the products they were importing from outside the continent could be purchased for less from neighbouring countries.

IATF2018, the first-ever such fair to be organised is expected to provide a platform for exchange of information on markets, dialogue and meetings among businesses, he said.

It would also enable traders to conclude deals and access information about investment opportunities.

Commenting, Qabeel described the signing of the AfCFTA agreement as a major step towards regional integration, adding that it was expected to result in a 52 per cent increase in the volume of trade among African countries and to lead to the elimination of 90 per cent of tariffs by 2022.

The Cairo conference is the first stop in a promotional programme for IATF2018.

Similar conferences are scheduled for South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire.

Features of IATF2018 include a trade services portal, country pavilions, and a virtual trade fair component that will serve as an ongoing electronic exhibition which will outlast the physical fair.