The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) may never be realized unless Nigeria and the other 53 African countries that signed the pact muster the guts to synchronize commerce policy and assure the availability of infrastructure to support trade.
Stakeholders speaking at a one-day workshop organized by the Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on the “African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) Challenges on Nigerian Businesses” said the necessary framework to promote AfCFTA is currently missing, raising fears that the trade agreement will be a mirage.
According to Francis Omotosho, Registrar of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Academy, AfCFTA may not be achievable due to various problems that are likely to stymie the plan.
The 54 countries that have signed the accord, he said, must eliminate the impediments.
He explained that Nigeria, as the continent’s commerce hub, is politically and economically unstable, providing a challenge to the endeavor.
“AfCFTA will face a number of hurdles,” he explained. After all, it might not be possible. The United Nations recognizes 55 African countries (UN). Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a population of over 200 million people. Because trade is based on population, Nigeria ranks #1 in terms of trade.
“The first step in making any continental accord work is for the continent’s leader to be in good health. Nigeria, which is meant to be Africa’s leader, is having difficulties. There is no way the continental accord will function if we don’t get it right domestically.
“It’s regrettable that Nigeria is unable to overcome its internal conflict, let alone the exterior conflict. In the Africa Union, there are approximately 15 important regional trade agreements in place. As a result, it’s critical that we come together as a bloc to build trade unity.”
Tariff and non-tariff barriers, a lack of commitment to implement AfCFTA, inadequate trade infrastructure, a lack of rail transport system, inconsistency in trading agreements among member countries, cross-border trader settlement, people movement being hampered by documentation, no access to capital, and no multimodal transport system are among the trade barriers and challenges identified by him.
“Our internal tariffs, rates, and policies are terrible, and AfCFTA will be frustrated by them.” Nigeria is on the verge of collapsing, and our tariff barrier is a joke. Nigeria continues to brag about a 24-hour port operation, which does not exist. These are the kinds of topics we should be thinking about. Nigeria should have its own satellite by now, yet it is nowhere to be found. Access to money is limited, as is access to multimodal transportation, and the government should stop assigning Customs targets,”
Segun Ajayi-Kadir, Director-General of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), said Nigeria’s readiness for the AfCFTA is still low, but that “we will excel in AfCFTA provided the competitiveness of our market is secured.”
“AfCFTA is a fantastic idea if well implemented,” Ajayi-Kadir, who was represented by Director, Research and Advocacy, Oluwasegun Osidipe, stated. It has already been flagged, but no physical trading has yet begun.”
“We need adequate information on what was discussed,” he said, urging the government to bring the private sector along to benefit from the pact.
He mentioned a number of roadblocks, including the high cost of input. “We still have a long way to go in terms of ease of doing business, power supply issues, and infrastructure to connect the hubs (farms, markets, and ports).”
Adeleye Ajayi, Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Lagos State Chapter, said the AfCFTA gives a significant chance for African countries to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty and raise the income of 68 million others living on less than $5.50 per day.
Trade facilitation measures that eliminate red tape and simplify Customs procedures, he added, would drive $292 billion of the $450 billion in potential income benefits with the implementation of AfCFTA.
Meanwhile, he stated that realizing the AfCFTA’s full potential will necessitate considerable policy reforms and trade facilitation measures.
Basil Agboarumi, Managing Director of Skyway Aviation Handling Company Plc (SAHCOL), believes that if effectively implemented, the AfCFTA will assist enhance trade and tourism.
Agboarumi, who was represented by Mrs Uanshioa Adetola Vanessa, Manager, Corporate Communications, SAHCOL, asked all stakeholders to play a critical part in the achievement of the continental pact.
She noted the complicated process of immigration documentation, the linguistic barrier, tough intercontinental regulations, and political upheaval as hurdles to a successful free trade agreement in Nigeria.
Eugene Nweke, the event’s chairman and former President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, said Nigeria’s involvement and participation in the AfCFTA needs to be fine-tuned.
“Nigeria is the continent’s largest economy, and if we don’t position ourselves properly, we may find ourselves at a disadvantage.” The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a game-changer. There is no ideal system, but with all parties’ dedication, it will work, and we must all work together to make it a success,” he said.
He said that if correctly implemented, the free trade pact would eliminate poverty, promote output, and boost nations’ Gross Domestic Products (GDP).
Hameed Ali, Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), represented by Muse Omale, Deputy Comptroller of Customs, said the service has always been at the forefront of trade facilitation, and that the AfCFTA will be no exception.
“We constantly aim to key into government initiatives and exploit them to the benefit of the Nigerian economy,” he added, adding that the revolution in Customs automation will help commerce and strengthen the AfCFTA.