Nigeria’s decision to delay the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) was the best decision, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Friday.
The president was speaking at the inauguration of the National Action Committee for the Implementation of the AfCFTA in Abuja.
Mr Buhari. who acknowledged trade as pivotal to job creation, growth and health of the economy, said it is also a key enabler for regional and global integration.
The AfCFTA, he said, was an important part of the African Union- 2063 Agenda to promote economic and social integration on the continent.
He said Nigeria was very optimistic that a single African market for “Made -in- Africa” goods and services will be created.
“This trade, together with free movement of people and capital will result in faster integration of African economies,” the president said.
He said as a government, his administration is determined to ensure Nigeria’s position remains that such integration must be rules-based with built-in safeguards, against injurious practices.
President Buhari signed the AfCFTA several months after he initially refused to do so.
He refused to sign the agreement saying more consultations were necessary before Nigeria can append its signature to it.
His reluctance to sign the agreement was widely criticised by many diplomats and other Nigerians, including ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
But, despite the criticisms, the president insisted Nigeria’s approach to the AfCFTA was the best, as it was measured and consistent with the best practice in the circumstance.
“Our logic was simple. As Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, we cannot afford to get it wrong.
“We consulted all key stakeholders. We also conducted a rigorous impact and readiness evaluation.
“It was after these consultations and studies, and satisfactory reports that I signed the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement on behalf of Nigeria in July this year,” he said.
We know the challenge
Nigeria, the president pointed out, knows the benefits and understands the challenges involved in the agreement process.
For Africa to fully benefit from the AfCFTA, the president said member states must have an implementation programme that reflects the respective country’s national trade objectives and development plans.
The plans, he noted, require aligning, restructuring existing development projects, programme and initiatives.
Where there are gaps, he said, countries must address them, saying that was why Nigeria has established the National Action Committee on AfCFTA.
He reminded the committee members that their mandate is to support the efforts of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government, interest group associations and businesses to realise the benefits of the AfCFTA.
He said their mandate also includes putting measures in place to address any threats that may arise.
Also, all parties must work together and not allow any loopholes that might prove injurious to the Nigerian economy.
He said he has already directed key ministers and senior government officials to support the committee in its assignment.
The president said his administration’s expectation from the AfCFTA is job creation for the Nigerian youth, increased production of local raw materials and ultimately, exportation of quality made in Africa goods.
To monitor their progress, he directed the committee to always submit quarterly reports, saying he was looking forward to receiving its first report in March 2020.