By Daniel Adaji
President Muhammadu Buhari says the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will succeed if African governments demonstrate a higher level of commitment to tackle the slow pace of physical integration, political cooperation and tariff barriers that inhibit business integration.
Addressing the second African Sub-Sovereign Governments Network (AFSNET) Conference on Friday in Abuja, organised by the Afreximbank in collaboration with the secretariat of AfCFTA and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, the President decried the low-level trade among African countries.
”As leaders, we must all be concerned that we are not trading enough amongst ourselves. It is a bitter reality that Intra-regional trade still accounts for a very tiny fraction of total trade in Africa.
”We have to understand that if this new drive towards a continental free trade area is to succeed, we must demonstrate a higher level of commitment to tackle the slow pace of physical integration due to geographic and political fragmentations, the pace of political cooperation, and difficult tariff and non- tariff barriers that inhibit business integration.
”I am firmly convinced that with the right collaborative action, we will be able to record a much stronger pace of transformation.
”Through shared knowledge, innovation and creativity, we will be better able to cater for the needs of the African continent’s population of over 1.4 billion people,” the President said, urging the Conference to use the network and support provided by pan-African institutions as a platform for the exchange of ideas, knowledge and skills.
The Conference, he said, should also seek and advance innovative solutions to support our common quest for the expansion of intra-Africa trade opportunities for our people.
The Nigerian leader commended the organizers of the conference for demonstrating innovative thinking by taking the AfCFTA to the grassroots, lauding the President of Afreximbank, Prof. Benedict Oramah, and his team for committing US$250 million as seed capital towards the establishment of the AFSNET.
He acknowledged that the initiative spearheaded by Afreximbank was aimed at firmly establishing and deepening intra-continental trade investment development frontier for Africa, facilitating the reduction in the continent’s dependence on exports of primary commodities as well as minimizing the risks experienced due to strong reliance on global value chains.
”This opportunity, if properly harnessed, is a significant step for Africa to begin carving its own niche in the global value chain, from the constituent units up.
In all, we have remained particularly resilient.
”This will undoubtedly complement broader programmes such as the AfCFTA which remains one of the most strategic pan-African agenda to deliver inclusive and sustainable development,” he said.
The President also recognised the support of the Secretariat of the AfCFTA and the role of its Secretary General, Wamkele Mene, in organizing the conference in Abuja.
He underscored the critical role of the African Union Commission to the development of Africa and expressed delight that this initiative compliments the AU vision of achieving the 2063 Agenda –’‘The Africa We Want”.
He, therefore, assured the participants of the full support and cooperation of the Nigerian government in the implementation of the programme.
President Buhari also commended the outgoing Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, who also recently emerged as the President of the Forum of Règions in Africa, for embracing this initiative and being at the forefront of sharing and exploring opportunities that improve production and trade facilitation activities with his peers in the region.
The President, who told the conference that he was in the second and final term in office, used the occasion to reflect on the challenges the continent has encountered since he took office as President in 2015.
”In all, we have remained particularly resilient.
”Together, we have endured several challenges, from the collapse in commodity prices in mid- 2014 up till 2016 and again in 2020, to the COVID-19 pandemic, to the worsening impact of climate change, droughts, food insecurity and the depletion of our ecological reserves, and of course our fight against violent extremism and terrorism.
”In this regard, in May this year, at the African Union Extraordinary Summit in Malabo, I backed the recommendation of the AU Commission to set up a Standby Force on Terrorism on the continent. As leaders, we must summon the political will required for development.
”We must entrench synergy, enhance intelligence gathering and bring more urgency in our collective efforts as we seek to guarantee peace and prosperity in our continent.
”Therefore, we must increase our efforts in our fight against cybercrime, money laundering, drugs and arms trafficking, smuggling of persons and the reckless destruction of our precious wildlife.
”These and more we must do in order to engender a safe and productive environment for all.”
In separate messages at the event Governor Fayemi, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Adeniyi Adebayo and the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afreximbank, Prof Benedict Oramah welcomed the need for deliberate action to remedy the continued reliance of Africa on external trade partners, noting that the AfCFTA provides the platform to do that.
We have supported the AfCFTA Secretariat through current funding
Pledging the commitment of Afreximbank, Prof Oramah said the bank has disbursed over $20 billion in the 5 years to 2021 in support of intra-African trade and on the way to double this to $40 billion in the next 5 years.
”We have supported the AfCFTA Secretariat through current funding; launched in collaboration with the AfCFTA secretariat and AU Commission, the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) to support payment for intra-Africa trade in African currencies.
”A USD 3 billion facility for clearing and settlement is available for a continent-wide operation of the system; We have also launched the African Collaborative Transit Guarantee Scheme to enable goods to move across borders easily, ” he said.