‘Nigeria, we are waiting’ – Ramaphosa
The South African president is calling on the West African nation to say ‘yes’ to free trade
Forty-nine African countries have signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, but Nigeria — the continent’s largest economy — is not among them. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa put pen to paper on behalf of his country at the African Union summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, last month and has urged Nigeria to follow suit in a speech delivered in Abuja this week.
South African officials have informed the AU that they expect the deal to be ratified in Parliament by December this year.
“At the 31st session of the AU, South Africa joined its counterparts in signing the agreement. Today I stand here and I say: ‘Nigeria, no pressure,’” said Ramaphosa, tongue in cheek, to applause from the audience.
Nigeria’s federal government has undertaken an extensive consultation process with stakeholders, including state and local governments and trade unions, and has said it cannot sign until that process has concluded.
“You as Nigeria should also be applauded as you go through the process of consulting. Take your time, but don’t take too long because the continent is waiting for Nigeria and South Africa,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa was speaking at the annual meeting of the African Export-Import Bank on Wednesday. He was due to meet Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari later in the day.
Mahmoud Isa-Dutse, permanent secretary of Nigeria’s finance ministry, said the country fully supported the free trade deal. “It’s not that we are not going to sign, it’s just that we are doing consultations. A number of interest groups raised issues, which are being addressed. As you know, this is a major development and there are political economy issues. Some groups will lose, some groups will win,” he said.
Isa-Dutse elaborated on some of the issues faced by his government: “There will be short-term pains for some groups because when you open up there will be more competition and some goods will arrive cheaper, which is better for consumers,” he said. “But existing rent seekers and high-cost producers will lose … so part of the consideration process is to explain these things to people and ensure that they understand that, in the long term, everyone will be better off.
“In the long term, it is very clear to us that this free trade agreement is in the best interests of Nigeria and the whole continent; it’s just to sort out these minor issues.”
Albert Muchanga, the AU’s trade commissioner, said six countries had already ratified the agreement, and eight more were expected to ratify it in August. Another eight countries — including South Africa — have indicated that they will submit the necessary instruments of ratification by year-end.
Twenty-two countries are required to ratify the agreement before it comes into force.
“A month after we get the last instrument of ratification among the 22, the agreement comes into force,” said Muchanga. “It is possible that, by January 31 2019, the agreement will come into force.”
Although the agreement has been hailed by African leaders as a major step in the continent’s economic development, it is still light on major details about how exactly it will be implemented and the exact nature of the trade rules it will operate under.
Negotiations on thorny subjects such as intellectual property rights, rules of origin and competition regulations are still in progress.
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“In the long term, it is very clear to us that this free trade agreement is in the best interests of Nigeria and the whole continent”
Making his mark: President
Cyril Ramaphosa signs the
African Continental Free Trade Area agreement in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Photo: Siyabulela Duda/ GCIS