The Organised Private Sector (OPS) has lauded President Muhammadu Buhari for including Nigeria in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) at the just concluded Africa Union Summit on Sunday in Niamey.
The sector’s chieftains told journalists on Monday in Lagos that Nigeria has more to gain because it would have access to the larger market of the member countries.
Mr Muda Yusuf, the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), commended Buhari for following the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on the Assessment of AfCFTA.
According to Yusuf, Nigeria’s access to African countries, whose population is estimated at 1.2 billion and a two trillion dollars economy, offers tremendous opportunities for our firms.
“Not signing before now gave us the opportunity to put our views on the table to shape the structure of the agreement.
“We, therefore, welcome the decision of the Federal Government to the agreement,” he said.
The director-general, however, said though this would improve trade among African countries, appropriate safeguard measures should be put in place to protect vulnerable sectors of the economy.
He urged relevant agencies to effectively enforce the rules of origin of the agreement so as to build a competitive economy rather than having a disproportionate approach to the country’s industrialisation.
Also, Mr Mansur Ahmed, the President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said MAN was happy that the agreement had been signed after exhaustive consultations and analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the agreement.
“Initially, we (manufacturers) were not fully prepared, but right now, we are more than ready to benefit and exploit the framework of the agreement,” he said.
Commenting, Mr Ayoola Olukanni, Director-General, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), said signing of AfCFTA was a good development.
Olukanni said that it was a reflection of Buhari’s fulfillment of carrying all along before signing the agreement.
Olukanni said the AfCFTA framework required that operational modalities of the Rules of Origin, Tariff Schedules, Tariff Concessions, Services, and Investment Rules, among others were strictly followed by the relevant agencies.
“As Africa gears up for the implementation of this landmark agreement, a few issues deserve our attention.
“The AfCFTA is designed for the economic integration of Africa along the lines of what is evident within the European Union (EU), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“The reality is that AfCFTA is finally here, and the recent stakeholders’ meeting organized by the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA) in Addis-Ababa is a clear indication that we are on the margins of history on the emergence of Africa as a single and unified market.
“However, only those who prepare for it will harness the full potentials,” he said.
Olukanni added that before the agreement, most Nigeria’s companies, including banks, operated in 18 African countries, while Nigeria practically dominated the entertainment and creative sector of the continent.
“Nigeria airline operators, in spite of the the tough terrain of the domestic Aviation sector, provide services across the west and other parts of Africa.
“Now is the time for other sectors to harness the potential of the agreement,” he said.
In his remarks, Prof. Olukunle Iyanda, President, Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), expressed worried that the agreement would not be beneficial to the nation due to the attendant infrastructure deficit of the country.
“The agreement will not be too beneficial since the parameters to produce enough are not in place.
“My advice is that we specialise in the production of higher value export like cars, equipment and machineries rather than exchanging small value goods among member nations,” he said.
Journalists gathered that AfCFTA is to bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people, including a growing middle class, and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than 3.4 trillion U.S dollars.
Meanwhile, only 26 countries have ratified the agreement. They are Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Niger, Chad, Congo Republic, Djibouti, Guinea, eSwatini, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire).
Others are Senegal, Togo, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Saharawi Republic, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, São Tomé and Príncipe and Nigeria, which joined on Sunday, July 7, 2019.