A U.S.-based international trade expert, Ms Toyin Umesiri, has said that the lingering xenophobic attacks in South Africa are a threat to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Umesiri, who is the founder of the Trade with Africa Business Summit held annually in the U.S., made the call in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in New York.
She said the attacks, which targeted foreigners, especially other African nationals and their businesses, ran counter to the spirit and letter of the AfCFTA.
AfCFTA seeks to create a single continental market for goods and services as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and business travellers.
President Muhammadu Buhari signed the agreement in July, with the single trade market expected to take off on July 2020.
The xenophobic violence has seen foreign-owned shops and property looted or burnt in Johannesburg and other parts of the country over the years.
It recently triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against South Africa-linked businesses in parts of Nigeria, Zambia and some other African countries.
Noting that the situation was detrimental to the idea of free trade in the continent, Umesiri said the agreement should include legal-binding provisions for investment protection.
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She called on the African Union to sanction the South African Government for failing in its responsibility of protecting foreigners in its soil.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had reportedly expressed the same sentiment by urging countries whose citizens were affected to report South Africa to the AU.
Umesiri also called for the inclusion of sanctions in the AfCFTA against the government of any country that failed to secure foreign investments and businesses in its domain.
“The situation in South Africa shows how fragile the continent is when it comes to business transactions and free movement of goods and services.
“Now we have seen people returning from South Africa, meaning Nigerians and other African nationals are no more welcomed in South Africa.
“This is really detrimental to the whole agenda of one Africa, and the whole purpose of a single continental market as espoused by the AfCTA,” she said.
Umesiri noted that except concrete steps were taken to stop and prevent re-occurrence, the attacks would inspire similar actions all over the continent.
“We must put legal language in the AfCFTA to ensure that all African presidents and Ministers of Trade know that they have a responsibility to protect people and businesses under the continental free trade agreement.
“If that language does not exist currently, then we now have a reason to make sure that we cover it before things get out of hand.
“The amendment can either be done directly by the African Union or each nation can raise the issue in their process of ratifying the agreement.
“So, Nigeria can actually take the role of pushing the investment protection agenda in its ratification of the AfCFTA,” she said.