Buhari Kick-starts AfCFTA Implementation, Approves National Action Committee

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Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari at the weekend in Abuja gave his nod for the establishment of National Action Committee (NAC) to herald the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.

Buhari signed the agreement on July 7, 2019, in Niamey, Republic of Niger, at the 12th Extraordinary Session of the African Union Heads of States following the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on Impact and Readiness Assessment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.

The agreement seeks to create a single market for goods and services as well as movement of persons in the African continent with a view to increasing intra-African trade and deepening African economic integration.

Components of the agreement include: phase I and phase II negotiations. Phase I negotiations were adopted by the African Union Heads of State in Kigali on March 21, 2018.

According to the presidency, phase I negotiations gave rise to the establishment of AfCFTA as well as the protocol on trade in goods, protocol on trade in services and protocol on the rules and procedures on the settlement of disputes while phase II negotiations, expected to commence in January 2020, will cover competition, investment and intellectual property rights.

Explaining the rationale behind the establishment of NAC by Buhari, presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement, said the committee would consist of representatives of ministries and agencies with competent and relevant jurisdiction.

According to him, selected stakeholder groups from the private sector and members of civil society organisations to be saddled with the responsibility of coordinating the implementation of all AfCFTA readiness interventions would also be members.

He further explained that upon inauguration, NAC will “undertake a process of engagement with stakeholders to sensitise them on the opportunities and challenges of the AfCFTA, with preparedness plans for Nigerian economy”.

He added that: “Upon ratification, Nigeria will domesticate the Agreement by incorporating it into existing laws or enacting new laws, as appropriate. Engagement shall shortly start with the ninth National Assembly.”

The statement listed other recommendations approved by Buhari to include: signature and ratification of the AfCFTA agreement; engaging in the ongoing negotiations of the annexures of the agreement to incorporate safeguards for the economy, such as: a longer period to achieve AfCFTA’s trade liberalisation ambition; common exclusive and sensitive lists for ECOWAS; import quotas for exclusive and sensitive products; security and customs cooperation and other measures to tackle smuggling, non-tariff barriers to trade and predatory trade practices.

It also said the president approved other measures such as sustaining the trade reforms at ECOWAS including the establishment of a common trade policy; improving the operation and welfare gains from the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) and establishment of an ECOWAS peer review and audit mechanism; and establishing and championing programmes at AU/AfCFTA to resolve the critical continental level challenges to the success of the AfCFTA including smuggling; abuse of rules of origin, low production and service capacities, poor infrastructure and revenue loss.

“On the list of the President’s approval are: fast-tracking domestic work, for the implementation of AfCFTA readiness interventions to enhance productivity, competitiveness and facilitate trade which include policies to grow local capacity to produce and export goods and services; infrastructure projects, trade facilitation, ease of doing business and trade rules enforcement initiatives. And support, actively, Micro-Small and Medium Enterprises.

“Following the signing of the Agreement, Nigeria plans to participate in the ongoing negotiations on the annexures of Phase I agreement and protocols to incorporate the above safeguards approved by the President. For Trade-in-Goods Protocol, the annexures will include schedule of tariff concessions; rules of origin; customs cooperation and mutual administrative assistance; trade facilitation; transit trade and transit facilitation, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, non-tariff barriers and trade remedies, for the protocol on trade in goods.

“For Trade-in-Services Protocol, the annexures will include schedules of specific commitments, Most Favoured Nation (MFN) exemption and the annex on air transport.

“Overall, the implementation of the AfCFTA is going to be a long journey. The Federal Government of Nigeria is committed to ensuring that Africa achieves a free and fair trade environment governed by rules that are predictable, enforceable, and in line with the intent and objectives of our continent which are growth, through increased intra-African trade, job creation and improved terms of trade in a rapidly changing global economy,” the statement added.