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AfCFTA: The underlying principles, objectives and benefits

The fears around the issue of dumping and border security should not outweigh the huge benefits that AfCFTA offers to the member-states.

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The Agreement (the “Agreement”) establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (the “AfCFTA”) has continued to generate discussions following the commencement of trading under the new economic bloc. The Agreement was signed on 21 March 2018 at the Extra-Ordinary Summit of the African Union held in Kigali Rwanda and came into force on 30 May 2019 after the Gambia became the 22nd State to ratify it.

Nigeria signed the Agreement on 7th July 2019 and after initial dilly-dallying, ratified it in November 2020 leading to the formal deposit of the Instrument of ratification before the 05 December 2020 submission deadline. Paradoxically, Nigeria (34th member State to ratify the treaty) who was at the forefront of developing and negotiating the AfCFTA Agreement later became jittery at the point of ratification. The initial hesitation has been explained on the basis that prior consultation with the manufacturing community and other stakeholders was needed before ratification.

COVID-19 pandemic delayed the phase 2 negotiations and commencement of trading under AfCFTA which was earlier scheduled to start on 1st of July 2020. Trading eventually kicked off on 1st January 2021 and it is too early to assess the impact of trading yet particularly as some countries are yet to ratify the treaty. The AfCFTA has been lauded as a game-changer and ambitious project capable of lifting over 30 million people out of poverty on the continent, through trade liberalization and economic integration in line with the Pan African Vision (Agenda 2063) of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa.

In terms of structure, the main Agreement is divided into 7 Parts and 30 Articles. In addition, there are Protocols, Annexes and Appendices which equally form part of the AfCFTA Agreement. Three of these Protocols are (i) the Protocol on Trade in Goods (ii) the Protocol on Trade in Services, and (iii) the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes. Article 8 of the Agreement is to the effect that the Protocols, Annexes and Appendices shall, upon adoption, form integral of the Agreement.

Read Also: AfCFTA: NESG advises FG to strengthen domestic value chains

The Phase Two Negotiations for both Trade in Goods and Trade in Services include (i) the Protocol on Investment (ii) the Protocol on Intellectual Property and (iii) the Protocol on Competition Policy as well as the associated Annexes and Appendices. As common with most treaties, the AfCFTA Agreement is expected to be organic as future amendments and updates are possible, provided that any additional instruments deemed necessary are to be concluded in furtherance of the objectives of AfCFTA and shall upon adoption, form an integral part of the Agreement.

Modelled after the principles of the World Trade Organization/General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and General Agreement on Trade in Services (WTO/GATT/GATS), the AfCFTA has some of the trappings of custom union and common market even though one of the AfCFTA objectives is the creation of Continental Customs Union at a later stage. Conceptually, economic integration is broadly classified into five stages, viz: free trade area, Custom union, Common market, Economic union (single market) and Political union.

One key feature of Custom Union being the acceptance of a unified external common tariff against non-members. The European Union presents a unique example of the Customs Union through the instrumentality of the Union Customs Code which applies a uniform tariff system for imports from outside the EU. Unlike the Custom Union, the AfCFTA under its rules on Most-Favoured-Nation Treatment allows member States to conclude or maintain preferential trade arrangements including different tariff arrangements with Third Parties provided that such trade arrangements do not impede or frustrate the objectives of the Protocol on Trade in Goods. By default, WTO member countries trade based on conditions laid down under GATT.  It is in a bid to address the tariff and non-tariff barriers existing under the WTO, that some regions have opted for more favourable trade deals as seen in Europe, Asia, North America and now Africa.

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As with any WTO-based trade treaty, there are key non-exhaustive underlying principles that underpin the AfCFTA. Some of these principles will form the subject of our discussions in subsequent publications. These include (i) the Most-Favoured-Nation Treatment and (ii) the Rules of Origin. Whilst the former mandates the State Parties to accord preferential treatment to one another, the latter spells out criteria for goods that will be eligible for preferential treatment under the AfCFTA. Equally important is the Anti-dumping and Countervailing Measure which provides trade remedies and remedial actions against imports which are detrimental to local industries. In relation to the Trade in Services, the Most-Favoured Nation exemptions afford State Parties a margin of leeway to exclude certain sectors or sub-sectors from their Schedule of Commitments and limit market access to those sectors or sub-sectors.

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Read Also: FG outlines steps to be taken by businesses to export to AfCFTA countries

Key Objectives

The overarching objective behind the AfCFTA is the elimination or reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers amongst the 54 Countries that agreed to be members of the bloc by providing a single market for goods and services, facilitated by movement of persons in order to deepen the economic integration and prosperity of the African continent. This key objective is to be achieved through successive rounds of negotiations that are to be done in phases.

In specific terms, the Agreement also seeks to (i) lay the foundation for the establishment of a Continental Customs Union; (ii) promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation of the State Parties, (iii) enhance the competitiveness of the economies of State Parties within the continent and global market, (iv) promote industrial development through diversification and regional value chain development, agricultural development and food security, and resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes. In order to actualize these noble objectives, Article 4 of the Agreement mandates State Parties to:

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  • Progressively eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods;
  • Progressively liberalise trade in services;
  • Cooperate on investment, intellectual property rights and competition policy;
  • Cooperate on all trade-related areas;
  • Cooperate on customs matters and the implementation of trade facilitation measures;
  • Establish a mechanism for the settlement of disputes concerning their rights and obligations; and
  • Establish and maintain an institutional framework for the implementation and administration of the AfCFTA.

There is no doubt that the actualization of these objectives will put Africa on the part of economic posterity and industrialization. It is expected that each State Party should demonstrate commitment, sincerity, and integrity in dealing with other member States. The success of the European Union and other similar regional trade blocs has shown that with the right political will and commitment from member-states, regional trade deals as seen in AfCFTA often contribute to the economic development of the participating region.

Benefits

The AfCFTA is the world’s largest free trade zone since the establishment of the WTO in 1994 and offers a lot of benefits to member States particularly those with competitive advantage and enabling infrastructures. Africa has a population of 1.3 Billion people and a combined GDP of over $2.6 Trillion (more than 6 times of Nigeria’s GDP). According to the Brookings Institution’s report, intra-African trade accounts for 17 percent of Africa’s exports compared to 59 percent in Asia and 69 percent in Europe.

The report projected that the removal of tariffs if well implemented could boost intra-regional trade up to 50 percent by 2040, from the current 17 percent. Nigeria has a competitive advantage in a number of sectors and stands in a position to benefit from the newly enlarged market. This will further increase investment in the distribution and logistics supply chain as cross-border trades will spiral up. Nigeria’s increasing unemployment rate of over 30% which has been made worse by the pandemic is expected to reduce when trading starts in commercial quantity.

Read Also: Digital transformations and AfCFTA as critical imperatives for the rebound of African economies

The AfCFTA will progressively reduce trade tariffs by over 90% by 2022 and by extension address the increasing inflation and infrastructural deficits within the continent. Nigeria, being the largest economy in the continent with strong service sector should position itself to benefit from the economies of scale that will follow the localization of industries. Oil refineries, cement, agriculture, food processing, minerals, banking and financial services, aviation, information technology and legal services have been identified as some of the critical sectors where Nigeria has competitive advantage.

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The fears around the issue of dumping and border security should not outweigh the huge benefits that AfCFTA offers to the member States. Rather, this should be a wake-up call for Nigeria to invest heavily in rail and road transport, port infrastructure, border security, internal security, electricity, education, and other enabling infrastructures. The last border closure was largely attributed to the issue of dumping and security as it was alleged that Nigeria was amongst other things being swamped with fake and sub-standard goods mostly from Asian countries through the Benin Republic.

The AfCFTA Rules of Origin provision is meant to address this, and it is hoped that the AfCFTA member States should demonstrate the political will to ensure strict compliance. While the regime of Trade in Goods appears to be taking shape, particularly with the commencement of trading early this year, the progressive framework for the negotiations of specific commitments by the member-states in the area of Trade in Services, should afford Nigeria the platform to ensure that the service sectors benefit from the huge opportunities provided under the AfCFTA.

 

Prince I. Nwafuru, MCIArb (UK)

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Lagos, Nigeria

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Prince is a lawyer at Paul Usoro & Co and leads one of the Commercial Dispute Resolution & Litigation Teams of the Firm. As an international trade lawyer, he has advised and represented both local and international clients and organizations on a wide range of issues involving cross-border trades disputes, maritime and international arbitration.Prince recently worked with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) AfCFTA Committee charged with the responsibility of coordinating the NBA inputs on the AfCFTA Phase I Negotiations in 5 priority service sectors particularly as it relates to legal services. The Committee interfaced with the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations and AfCFTA National Action Committee in discussing the Schedule of Specific Commitments on Trade in Services.Prince has also written several articles including on the AfCFTA.

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Columnists

CIFI: Despite CBN funds, can the creative industry thrive in this environment?

The Nigerian technology ecosystem is at its nascent stage, and beyond money, there is the need to ensure an enabling environment for operators.

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Despite a frail 2020 for the Nigerian economy, there was a bit of silver lining. The Nigerian Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) sector emerged as the leading segment of the economy aiding the country’s exit from recession by a whisker in Q4 2020.

The development, in effect, justifies to some extent, the earlier decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to create the Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI) to support businesses in the following areas:

  • Fashion
  • Information Technology
  • Movie Production and Distribution
  • Music

The CBN began to contemplate the idea of the CIFI following the influx of private investment into the technology space in 2019. For instance, according to the African Tech Start-ups Funding report for 2019, Nigeria got foreign exchange inflows totalling US$137.9m in the period.

This continued into 2020, considering that despite the pandemic, the sector still attracted an additional US$122m in seed funding. Furthermore, the sector contributed 13.12% of the total real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria which came to N19.53tn as of Q4 2020.

Evaluating the progress made so far with the CIFI, as of Q3 2020, the CBN had reportedly disbursed c. N3.12bn in intervention to 320 beneficiaries. While there are concerns around the tenor of the loan for Software Engineers and accessibility of funds to other technological entrepreneurs, we laud the CIFI and encourage relevant agencies to do more.

The Nigerian technology ecosystem is at its nascent stage, and beyond money, there is the need to ensure an enabling environment for operators. For instance, the recent BVN concerns that rocked the financial technology space and the regulatory uncertainty which is a key risk for telecommunication operators among other concerns, are issues that should be decisively dealt with.


CSL Stockbrokers Limited, Lagos (CSLS) is a wholly owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria. CSLS is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange

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Book of States 2020: Vast resources, low industrial development

State governments have been heavily reliant on FAAC distribution to meet recurrent expenditure, thus making no room for capital spending. 

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The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) in a recent report titled “Book of States 2020” highlighted the investment prospects of the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to steer attention to the subnational investment opportunities in Nigeria. We note that the report is an outcome of a partnership between the commission and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to showcase the key investment opportunities for each state.

The report focused on the key areas of physical capital (airports, railway stations and seaports), resources (natural and minerals) and demography (population and labour force) of each state including their Internally Generated Revenues (IGRs), budget spending and household consumption.

While we acknowledge the decrepit infrastructure as a major hindrance to the growth of businesses and economic prosperity of many states, we note the little emphasis placed by the states on financing capital projects to attract private sector investments. Over the years, state governments have been heavily reliant on FAAC distribution to meet recurrent expenditure, thus making no room for capital spending.

The truth is that as long as state governments do not make desperate efforts to develop their internal revenue-generating capacity, the states in the country would continue to operate an inefficient rent collection system where they rely solely on FAAC allocation to meet basic needs such as paying workers’ salaries.

In our view, we believe the efforts to revive the ailing status of many states depend on the effectiveness and soundness of policies made to propel investments. Currently, Nigeria has enormous potentials to improve tourism given its ample amount of resources to attract both local and international tourists. Many countries in the continent such as South Africa, Kenya and Morocco have made great fortunes from tourism.

Over 50% of the states have recorded no foreign direct investments over time due to little or no requisite infrastructure needed to attract capital inflows amid untapped resources in these affected regions. Also, we believe the Federal Government needs to relax its control on some of the state-owned resources to enable the states better exploit these resources.


CSL Stockbrokers Limited, Lagos (CSLS) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria. CSLS is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

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