Two years on, Nigeria still preparing for AfCFTA

By Femi Adekoya
Almost two years after the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which came into force on January 1, 2021, Nigeria continues to lag behind in making the trade agreement operational owing to structural challenges, lack of consensus on trade protocols and strategy among stakeholders.

Though the country continues to express readiness to commence trading, the political will to implement the deal remains in doubt going by the pace and protectionist stance of Nigeria and other African governments.

Already, seven countries, including Rwanda, Cameroun, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius and Tanzania have been selected among countries to start trading under the AfCFTA framework in a pilot phase.

The move seeks to test the environmental, legal and trade policy basis for intra-African trade, according to the AfCFTA secretariat. The countries were selected from the 36 that had expressed interest in trading under the pilot phase. Each of the applicants had submitted its tariff schedule.

Nigeria has yet to finalise its tariff schedule as well as unveil guidelines and implementation strategy for the trade deal, raising concerns for the organised private sector.

The Secretary, National Action Committee on African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), Francis Anatogu, on Tuesday, announced that all is set for Nigeria to begin trading activities under the AfCFTA.

Anatogu stated this at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (LCCI’s) Export Group Symposium in Lagos. The Secretary said Nigeria must pay attention to trade facilitation, policies, infrastructure, trade information, free movement of people and goods, finance and institutional coordination between the federal government and private sector.

“What we are focusing on in 2022 is understanding where the opportunities are and we have already identified areas that are priorities for AfCFTA in terms of products and services. We have also been able to dimension them into arrowheads to help us focus on the short term and frontiers that we can focus on the medium to long term”, he said.

He, however, stated the need to grow the volume of transactions within the country, while also supporting and encouraging businesses to take advantage of the African markets. He also pointed out the need to attract global investment in the country’s bid to take advantage of the AfCFTA

In his words: “At the National Action Committee (NAC), our mission and vision for the AfCFTA is to take 10 per cent of Africa’s import from the world to provide the products and services from Nigeria that are currently being supplied by other countries outside Africa, but we know that for us to achieve that, we need to focus on developing value chain in products and services.”

He said according to the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), export has grown in the past one year, advising that the next step for Nigeria is to boost its manufacturing presence on the continent.

He noted that so far, seven countries have started piloting the AfCFTA trade, saying Nigeria is on the verge of joining, adding that one of the key elements the country is trying to put in place is the preferential trade process to be able to trade under AfCFTA.

“The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has developed this procedure and is being reviewed with the stakeholders with a view to adopting it and publishing it for businesses to start to use,” he added.

Earlier, the president, LCCI, Asiwaju Michael Olawale-Cole, said the AfCFTA launched in 2021, is flagship project of the African Union’s (AU’s) Agenda 2063, a blueprint for attaining inclusive and sustainable development across the continent over the next 50 years.

He said it aims to boost intra-African trade by providing a comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreement among the member states, covering trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights and competition policy.

He highlighted that the Pan-African Payments and Settlement System (PAPSS) is a centralised payment and settlement infrastructure for intra-African trade and commerce payments, stressing that this project which is being developed in collaboration with the African Export-Import Bank, (AFREXIM) Bank will facilitate payments as well as formalise some of the unrecorded trade due to prevalence of informal cross-border trade in Africa.

He lamented that export of primary products to the global community without value addition through processing will not generate the desired amount of foreign exchange, stating that Nigeria’s non-oil export sector is dominated by raw material and primary products such as cocoa, cashew, and leather exports over the years.

“We could generate more foreign exchange earnings if these primary products are processed into finished goods for the international markets, ‘The potentials of non-oil exports are largely untapped due to over dependence on crude oil exports,” he averred.

On her part, Chairperson, LCCI, Export Group, Mrs. Bosun Solarin, said the actualization of the benefits of AfCFTA remains elusive ang unachievable without effective distribution channel in which logistics play an indispensable role of bridging the gap between the dreams and realities of AfCFTA.

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