By Collins Nweze for the Nation.
Nigeria’s quest to fix its economic stagflation, including mass unemployment and exports drive, will be accelerated by her active involvement in the emerging Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
This was the joint submission of Francis Anatogu, Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Public Sector Matters and Funke Opeke, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MainOne, during an online discourse held on Sunday, 21 March 2021 on the risks and rewards of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
The discussion on the AfCFTA, which was attended by over 125 private, public and civil society professionals from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, United Kingdom, Jordan and North America, was the ninth edition of the Leadership Excellence for National Development (LEND) Webinar and Podcast Series of the JCI Nigeria Senate Association, a think tank.
The online event offered Anatogu and Opeke, two of the nation’s leading corporate and public sector thought leaders, an opportunity to assess Nigeria’s comparative advantages in the services and entertainment, fabrics and textiles, food products and petroleum industries. They also examined the risks of corporate inaction and regulatory inertia in the Nigeran environment even as they both observed that private, public sector partnerships offered a sure path to Nigeria’s expanded participation in regional and global trade.
“Regional trade is the next frontier for developing countries seeking to trade their way to prosperity,” said Anatogu. “For African countries, the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement offers a stepping stone to the global market place, but first, let’s even begin to build for the African market and let’s begin to scale and formalize our trade activities.” Anatogu is also the Secretary of Nigeria’s National Action Committee on AfCFTA.
He remarked that: “The agreement is a clarion call for businesses to boost backward integration and local value addition in readiness for trade opportunities…While the Nigerian Government continues to diversify the productive base of the economy within and beyond the petroleum industries, the emerging free trade area across Africa will enable our companies to enhance productivity growth through competition and specialization and eventually, consolidate Nigeria’s hub position in the Services sector.”
On her part, Opeke, whose telecommunications firm currently has customers in 10 West African countries, observed that the rewards of the continental free trade area will outweigh the risks “as long as our private and public sectors come together to harmonize policy, regulatory and business practice issues to spur focused and purpose-driven cross-border partnerships and alliances that deliver value for the local economy.”
“We must align with the collective vision of the initiators of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. The noble idea was essentially about reducing our dependencies on external goods and services as a country, and by extension, continentally, consequently, measured aimed at achieving our ease of doing business objectives need to be accelerated so that Nigerian firms can take advantage of the agreement,” Opeke remarked.
Key challenges to AfCFTA implementation in Nigeria include prevailing predatory trade practices, funding, regulatory and infrastructure constraints, insecurity, production and productivity issues. The presence of global players in Nigeria and the growing plethora of Nigerian brands adding value to economies across Africa showcases Nigeria’s soft power capabilities and capacity to galvanize regional economic growth and development, several participants said.
According to the Opeke, “We certainly have a lot of work to do but like the European Union example has shown, regional cooperation and integration is a desirable but delicate journey. We need to leverage the large pool of Nigerian expertise around the world, and we need to mobilize our private sector firms for performance, productivity, competitiveness and market positioning to better leverage our huge domestic markets because other countries, including global players, are already mobilizing to use our economy as a spring board to achieve their growth and business development goals.”
Afolabi Oladipo, a JCI Certified National Trainer and chartered engineer who moderated the discourse agreed with both speaker’s assertion that urgent economic management and mindset transformation was needed if the country is to actualize its trade objectives of leveraging the AfCFTA for a post-oil revenue driven society. “The JCI Senate Association in Nigeria will keep arranging insights sharing sessions such as this, as part of our contribution to nation building,” Oladipo remarked.
“Indeed, the AfCFTA is about continuous engagement and we trust that conversations such as this will lead to new deals and partnerships across cultural, national and political boundaries for Nigerian businesses,” said Ms. Nneka Itabor, Chair of the JCI Nigeria Senate Association and Host of the webinar.
Nigeria and other countries under the AfCFTA will have access to Africa’s markets worth about $504.17billion (goods) and $162bn (services), according to the National Action Committee on AfCFTA.
The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into effect in January 2021. Nigeria signed the Agreement in July 2019 and ratified it in November 2020. Countries within the ECOWAS Customs Union area are expected to apply zero duty on 90 per cent of their tariff lines by 2031.