Nigeria’s national African Continental Free Trade Area Forum ended in Lagos Friday with participants identifying key issues that need to be addressed at government and business levels ahead of AfCFTA implementation in July 2020 to ensure the country realizes benefits of the historic agreement.
The Forum, which brought together representatives of the private sector, key government institutions and experts, highlighted among other things the need for the country to conduct a gap analysis on the readiness of the State party to the AfCFTA for a successful implementation of the agreement.
Discussions were detailed, specific and practical, and revolved around the issue of implementation and capacity constraints within which governments have to operate. They highlighted that the Nigerian economy was faced with challenging domestic realities which need to be overcome to ensure that the private sector is able to compete under a liberalized African market. These challenges include high interest rates, corruption, unreliable power supply and inadequate infrastructure.
Participants pointed out that a study conducted in Nigeria had indicated clearly that cost of doing business and physical infrastructure were some of the key priority areas that needed to be addressed by the government as the clock continues to tick towards AfCFTA implementation.
Small to medium scale enterprises, they agreed, should be capacitated with awareness and sensitization workshops being held on what the AfCFTA is, with emphasis being put on what can be done to enter regional and global value chains.
The two-day Forum also agreed that issues of rules of origin, standards, SPS measures, technical regulations and conformity assessment, if not well addressed, would become trade barriers.
An institutional framework to address rules of origin, technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitory and phytosanitory measures (SPS) from national to RECs, linking to the African Union was needed. One of the key responsibilities of the institution being setting up a verification mechanism on conformity assessment certificates and rules of origin certificates. This, participants agreed, would address many disputes that may arise from trade remedies.
They also agreed that awareness and sensitisation should continue with a major focus on addressing youth and women’s informal trade, showcasing the benefits of the AfCFTA. Phase II issues were also discussed as were issues to do with intra-Africa payment systems and sharing information on how to boost intra-African trade and investment.
In closing remarks, Ambassador Yemi Dipeolu, Special Adviser to President Buhari on Economic Matters, said the meeting was ‘a very important event which gave participants insights on virtually all aspects of the AfCFTA’.
He acknowledged the need for government to partner with the private sector to respond to existing competitiveness challenges. Nigeria is yet to ratify the AfCFTA which was signed on July 7 this year by the President.
“We need to address capacity constraints and all the challenges that have been highlighted ahead of ratification and implementation of the AfCFTA,” said Ambassador Dipeolu.
For his part Bakary Dosso, representing Economic Commission for Africa’s Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, said it was ‘encouraging to be here today, with a clear signal from both the Federal Government and the organized private sector, that Nigeria is ready to fully implement the AfCFTA Agreement’.
“This is a result of the country’s dedication to understanding how it could benefit from the AfCFTA. Nigeria’s country-wide readiness impact assessment of the AfCFTA is an inspiration, and the country has much to be proud of,” said Mr. Dosso, adding the ECA, in partnership with the AUC, stood ready to work with both the Nigerian government and private sector to make the AfCFTA a reality that bears fruits for development.
“The AfCFTA offers significant potential for driving Nigeria’s regional integration and development. It is a long-term project with very high potential returns, but like any other high yielding venture, to harness those returns governments and the private sector will need to invest in the project,” he said.
Representatives of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) said they would do all in their power to work with other partners in the private sector and the government so the country can ratify the agreement soon.
The Forum was held under the theme Effective Implementation for Industrialisation and Inclusive Economic Development in Nigeria.