Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday stressed that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is one of the major initiatives currently being advanced by the Coalition for Dialogue (CoDA), which he heads.
The CoDA is a 10-year old development platform for discussions and reflections on key development issues on the continent.
Obasanjo made the remarks as African policy makers, officials from Regional Economic Communities, and business leaders on Monday started a two-day policy dialogue at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to map out a strategy for the successful implementation of the of the AfCFTA.
The May 27-28 policy dialogue is co-organised by the AU and CoDA.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. Net photo.
Obasanjo first appreciated the African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Albert Machanga, for their ongoing efforts to keep the historic trade deal at the forefront of Africa’s development agenda.
Their efforts, he said, have led to great success with the minimum ratification now achieved.
Twenty-two ratifications were needed for the agreement to enter into force. In April, the trade deal got the minimum required ratifications after the Gambia became the 22nd country to ratify it.
Obasanjo said: “The economic welfare of our people in Africa and the clear benefits of the AfCFTA, when it is fully implemented, to this effect cannot be overemphasised. That is why this issue should be a matter of great concern to all who desire a strong, safer, secure and progressive Africa.”
Obasanjo is the Chairperson of the CoDA Board of Directors.
The first session looked into the key elements required to establish an efficient and active continental free trade area. The session considered matters beyond tariff liberalization and focused on the other issues or key ingredients necessary for an efficient African integrated market.
One of the most critical elements, participants observed, is the ratification of the continental trade agreement by all countries.
Obasanjo was bothered by the fact that his own country Nigeria, which is a major economy on the continent, is yet to sign the agreement.
The policy dialogue aims to further enhance stakeholder engagement on the implementation of the AfCFTA.
It also aims to: build knowledge and expertise of all stakeholders on priority trade issues of the AfCFTA; improve regular information flow on trade issues to key stakeholders, and suggest a framework for the establishment of AfCFTA national committees; and improve co-ordination among relevant government ministries and agencies including through clear mandates and assigning of responsibilities.
Improving the participation opportunities for stakeholders in the work programme of the AfCFTA; and strengthening the culture of dialogue and inclusiveness, are the other specific goals of the policy dialogue.
The AfCFTA was first signed by African leaders on March 21, 2018, in Kigali.
Once implemented, experts say that the AfCFTA will increase intra-African trade by over 50 per cent, and boost the continent’s GDP by more than $40 billion.
Underpinning the agreement is a belief that consolidating the continent into one trade area provides greater opportunities for businesses and consumers alike, and increases the chance to support sustainable development in the world’s least developed region.
So far, 52 of the 55 AU member states are signatories to the agreement.
Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria are the only three countries that have not yet signed the Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA
In addition, 23 Parliaments of AU member states have approved ratification of the agreement and deposited instruments of ratification.
There is optimism that the remaining two will deposit instruments of ratification soon.
At the 31st Ordinary Summit of the AU Heads of State and Government held last July in Nouakchott, Mauritania, the Assembly committed to undertake broad-based national awareness campaigns so that all stakeholders such as ordinary citizens and business people across Africa embrace the AfCFTA.
The Summit also mandated the AU Commission to organize a civil society forum and a private sector forum preceding the July 2019 Summit in Niamey, Niger in order to enhance stakeholder engagement on the implementation of the AfCFTA.
Beyond the establishment of National Committee on the AfCFTA, there is a need to ensure that African countries and Regional Economic Communities have functioning formal platforms to undertake regular multi-stakeholder consultations to ensure inclusive trade policymaking and implementation processes.
It is believed that inclusive trade policy-making processes can significantly contribute to the empowering of people and persuade governments to develop and implement policies that use trade as a means to pursue economic equity and social justice.
Abdoulie Janneh is a Gambian diplomat and economist who is the Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation told Business Times that the AfCFTA is a catalyst for Africa’s integration and one which should be welcomed by all countries by their commitment through ratification.
Other key elements for its successful implementation, he noted, include: countries fixing their economies; and especially developing appropriate infrastructure as well as allowing full free movement of people across their borders.
He added: “It’s not just a question of visas. We should (totally) eliminate the demand for the visa. In the EU people don’t show visas.”
On the three countries that have not yet put pen to paper, especially Nigeria, he said the latter need to be engaged so as to come on board.
He added: “A big country like Nigeria which is such a big proportion of Africa, if they are not part of this it certainly reduces the impact of what we are supposed to do. Let’s push and encourage Nigeria.”
The AfCFTA is the continent’s most ambitious integration initiative. It mainly aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments; and expand intra-Africa trade across Regional Economic Communities and the continent.
Trade in goods and trade in services are key elements in phase one of negotiations where issues on the table include tariff concessions, rules of origin for goods and schedule of specific commitments for services.
Phase two of negotiations will tackle matters including investment, competition and intellectual property.