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Columnists

AfCFTA to promote inclusive trades for women and youth in Africa

The SMEs and Startup ecosystem in Nigeria which are dominated by women and youths should equally take advantage of these opportunities.

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Border closure is a threat to forthcoming Lagos Trade Fair - LCCI 

Inclusive economic development remains one of the core elements of both the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In furtherance of this, article 3(e) of the AfCFTA main Agreement and article 27(2)(d) of the Protocol on Trade in Services specifically mandate State parties to promote gender equality and “improve the export capacity of both formal and informal service suppliers, with particular attention to micro, small and medium-sized; women and youth service suppliers.

With over 60 percent of its population being under the age of 25, Africa is regarded as the youngest continent in the world. This presents both challenges and opportunities for the continent. For instance, in Nigeria, the young population has led to attendant social risks as unemployment nears 40% creating a ticking time bomb. The popular saying is that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

On the positive side, however, the young population when properly harnessed will heighten productivity and provide affordable labour which in turn may lead to increase in investment. Nigerian youths just like their counterparts in other African States are known to be very innovative and enterprising. With the right policy and the enabling infrastructures, this energic population can drive the AfCFTA agenda.

Relatedly, women constitute most of the players in the SMEs ecosystem, accounting for nearly 90% of the labour force in the informal sector. A visit to the popular Balogun market in Lagos Nigeria will attest to this fact. No doubt, regional informal trades amongst women and youth within the ECOWAS region have been going on even before AfCFTA. But the new trade deal is meant to open the door to a population of 1.3 Billion people with a combined GDP of USD2.6 Trillion.

This is a huge opportunity and further buttresses the need for gender-sensitive and youth-centric implementation that will ensure sustainable and inclusive growth. As noted by a commentator, women and youth traders are less likely to be equipped with the appropriate skills, technology and resources that would enable them to benefit from trade and trade liberalization as they continue to suffer from invisibility, stigmatization, violence, harassment, poor working conditions and lack of recognition for their economic contribution.

These challenges are made worse by non-tariff barriers such as poor infrastructure, insecurity, lack of access to funds, high unemployment, weak currency, cost of capital, multiple taxations, and other regulatory hurdles.  A clear example of the hurdle being the recent intervention by the agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria in the areas of FINTECH and Cryptocurrency.

Just last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a circular advising Capital Market Operators to sever ties with platforms that facilitate access to trading in securities listed in foreign markets. While recognizing the role of the regulators to protect the investing Nigerian public and their assets, however, the interventions have been interpreted by many as capable of sending a wrong signal and acting as disincentives to innovation. Again, this brings to the fore the need for Continental Free Trade that fosters inclusiveness with member States initiating policies that create more opportunities for the youth and women.

At the webinar held on 29 March 2021 to mark the signing of the MOU on strategic partnership between the AfCFTA Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the AfCFTA Secretary-General Mr Wamkele Mene re-echoed the need for inclusiveness in the AfCFTA implementation with the following words:

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We’ve learnt from other trade agreements in the world. And the lesson to draw is that if a trade agreement neglects the most vulnerable segment of the society, if a trade agreement is perceived to benefit only the multi-national corporations, only the elite, it shall not succeed and it shall not have legitimacy as far as the citizens are concerned. And so that is why I have made it my priority in the implementation of this agreement that there should be shared benefits, there should be shared responsibility with Africans across the length and breadth of the African continent in concrete areas such as affirmative action for women in trade. We are looking at concrete ways in which we can expand the benefit for young people and for women in trade. This is the type of development that we require in order to make this agreement successful. This is the type of development that we require to make sure that the benefits are inclusive.

This Statement coming from the AfCFTA Secretariat is a clear indication of the aspiration towards gender-balanced and youth-sensitive AfCFTA. However, one is not unmindful of the limited role of the AfCFTA Secretariat in the implementation process.  The actual implementation is done at the national and regional level. And this is not to underestimate the very critical albeit complementary role that the Secretariat plays in this regard.

Therefore, the change must start from each member country and percolate through the regional economic blocs and finally to the entire Africa. Nigeria through its agencies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (assisted by the private sector) can support inclusiveness by providing AfCFTA-focused low-interest financing, training of the SMEs on cross-border trades as well as other incentives to promote the engagement of women and youth in trades on the continent.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth and women-led businesses has widened the economic gap and further impoverished those at the lowest rung on the economic ladder – mostly women and youths. This calls for heightened capacity building in creating new trading and entrepreneurial opportunities for all. With the constant value erosion in the local currency and low-yield environment, entrepreneurs and SMEs in Nigeria can, through cross-border trades, hedge against business risks and equally take advantage of possible arbitrage that exists in different markets within the AfCFTA.

A shift from the business-as-usual approach on the issue of women and youth is needed under AfCFTA to ensure that the objectives are actualized. Although the AfCFTA is not the magic bullet or the cure for all the economic challenges facing the youths and women in Africa, it is hoped that when fully and equitably implemented, it will go a long way to address some of the factors inhibiting the economic growth of these vulnerable groups.

A recent report commissioned by the UNDP and the AfCFTA Secretariat titled “The Futures Report: Making the AfCFTA Work for Women and Youth” which was published in December 2020 has shown that beyond the projections, numbers and negotiations, the realization of the AfCFTA objectives will depend on decisive actions and collective efforts of the African people. Therefore, concrete measures and investment are needed to ensure that women and youths, who account for the majority of the population, business owners and workforce can be better integrated into the value chains, jobs and opportunities available under the AfCFTA.

As shown by the Report, many entrepreneurs and SMEs across Africa are already taking steps and positioning themselves to benefit from the free trade area and scale their businesses. Some SMEs owners interviewed noted that they are increasing their production lines and sourcing for inter-continental partnership ahead of the progressive implementation of the various phases of the trade regime.

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The SMEs and Startup ecosystem in Nigeria which are dominated by women and youths should equally take advantage of these opportunities. Finally, given that trades in goods and services are fast moving into the digital space, the AfCFTA members States need to invest heavily in digital infrastructures and urgently address the high cost of data in Africa which has made it difficult for the majority of women and youths to access opportunities available online.

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

Tasks before the AfCFTA dispute settlement body

The success of the AfCFTA will depend largely on the willingness of the member states to adhere to the agreement.

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The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) held its inaugural meeting on 26 April 2021 at the AfCFTA Secretariat in Accra Ghana. The DSB is composed of the representatives of the State Parties and shall have the power to establish Dispute Settlement Panels and an Appellate Body responsible for settlement of disputes between the member States.

The mandate of the DSB also extends to adopting the reports of the Panels and Appeal Body as well as monitoring and ensuring the implementation of the ensuing decisions. In carrying out its mandates, the DSB will work with the AfCFTA Secretariat while maintaining its independence in the area of dispute settlement.

The inaugural meeting signals the readiness of the AfCFTA dispute settlement infrastructure to take up any disputes that may arise in the course of trading amongst the member States. Disputes are inevitable in any free trade area and when any such disputes arise under the AfCFTA, the resolution is to be in line with the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes which forms part of Phase I Negotiation.

Recognizing its importance to the success of the trade deal itself, the Protocol proclaims that “the dispute settlement mechanism of the AfCFTA is a central element in providing security and predictability of the system” and “shall preserve the rights and obligations of State Parties under the Agreement and clarify the existing provisions of the Agreement in accordance with customary rules of interpretation of public international law.”

Though inspired by the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s dispute settlement architecture, the AfCFTA framework is meant to address some of the lapses in the WTO. In an exclusive opinion piece for “The Africa Report”, Mr Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA, explained how the AfCFTA will work in order to avoid the pitfalls of other trading blocs. As noted in the report:

The WTO’s tribunal of final instance for global trade disputes, the Appellate Body, has been reduced to irrelevance over disagreements on its composition. The paralysis of both the WTO’s negotiating and dispute settlement arms means that trade disputes between China and the United States, two of the WTO’s largest members, have flared into open hostility.”

Drawing from the WTO experience, the African States in negotiating the free trade treaty cherry-picked the aspects of the WTO’s dispute settlement system that have worked and jettisoned the problematic parts.

At the Virtual Press Conference held on 04 May 2021 to update the public on the status of the implementation of the AfCFTA and the progress made so far, the AfCFTA Secretary-General re-echoed the importance of the dispute settlement mechanism to the success of the AfCFTA while answering questions from journalists across Africa. Commenting on the milestone achievement recorded with the inaugural meeting of the DSB, he noted that:

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“The dispute settlement is really the mechanism and is at the heart of the African Continental Free Trade Area. And it is at the heart of what we mean by a rule-based trading system. And at the heart of what we mean by market certainty and predictability. For the first time on the African continent, there is a dispute settlement body that will have oversight over all the disputes that arise under the agreement whether there are investments related, trade in goods, trade in services, market access related disputes. This body will have oversight over all of that.”

All eyes are now on the AfCFTA DSB as it shoulders the task of ensuring that disputes between member States are resolved in an efficient, transparent, fair and impartial manner. The starting point is to ensure that persons appointed to be members of the Dispute Settlement Panels and Appellate Body have the expertise and experience in the subject matter of the dispute and are chosen strictly on the basis of objectivity.

There is an even more important corresponding duty on the State Parties when nominating persons to be included on the indicative list or roster of individuals to serve as Panelists to ensure that nomination is based on merit and proven expertise on the subject matter. The member States should eschew any nepotistic or tribal considerations in nominating State representatives. The Nigerian government should resist the temptation to premise its nominations on Federal Character or other ethnic or religious considerations as we’ve seen in recent appointments.

Recent events such as the reported discriminatory measures against Nigerian traders in Ghana, the closure of the Nigerian border with Benin Republic, the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa on African businesses and the retaliatory attack on South African-owned businesses present examples of the kind of disputes that may come up before the AfCFTA DSB assuming that similar issues arise in the future. Others may include disputes over conflicting public policies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, rules of origin, dumping, regulatory excessiveness, standardization, trans-shipment, taxation, market access, and consumer protection etc.

The AfCFTA dispute settlement mechanism is restricted to State-to-State disputes. The treaty is silent on the mechanism for the resolution of disputes between private individuals. Notwithstanding this limitation, the private sector participants such as the SMEs and other business entities will be able to petition their governments to implement the rights and obligations set out in the agreement establishing the AfCFTA. That way, the rights of the private sector can be enforced using the State instrument.

For instance, in a situation where citizens of a member State are being subjected to discriminatory measures in another AfCFTA member country, the affected country may decide to refer the case to the DSB on behalf of its citizens, after exhausting the amicable settlement options such as Good Offices, Consultations, Conciliation and Mediation. It is not yet clear what yardstick will guide such referrals or to what extent such anti-free-trade measures will impact on the citizens of the member state before it decides to challenge the infractions at the DSB. Whatever the case, where a member state fails to protect the rights of its citizens, the affected traders may seek other legal remedies available under the national laws or within any bilateral and multilateral instruments applicable to the disputes.

In relation to investment disputes, the ongoing negotiation of the AfCFTA Protocol on Investment is meant to clarify the uncertainty around the framework for resolving investor-state disputes. The member states in choosing to resolve their disputes within the AfCFTA framework should be aware of the fork-in-road provision under article 3(4) of the Protocol, which precludes a State Party who has invoked the dispute settlement procedure under the Protocol with regards to a specific matter from invoking another forum for dispute settlement on the same matter.  Another area of interest is the enforcement of decisions reached under the AfCFTA dispute settlement process.

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The effectiveness of a dispute resolution mechanism is often measured with the 3 E’s which are efficiency, expertise, and enforceability. Challenges will likely arise in relation to compliance with decisions under the AfCFTA as we have seen under the WTO and other regional trade treaties.  It is hoped that the desire to enhance investors’ confidence and the spirit of amity will spur the AfCFTA members to comply with decisions made by the dispute settlement bodies. In the end, the success of the AfCFTA will depend largely on the willingness of the member states to adhere to the agreement and to eschew any form of self-help when they perceive any breach of the trade deal.

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Columnists

Insurance Recapitalization: The quest for efficiency

To tap into this, however, would require players to come up with innovative products.

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Recapitalisation: 26 firms get NAICOM's approval

As the phase II deadline for the recapitalization of the Nigerian Insurance Industry draws nearer, cracks are beginning to emerge from the wall. The most recent being the National Insurance Commission’s (NAICOM) revocation of UNIC Insurance Plc’s license with effect from the 25 March 2020. Consequently, the firm was handed over to a receiver/ liquidator to ensure a seamless liquidation process.

According to Mr. Sunday Thomas, the Insurance Commissioner, the company currently manifests every symptom of a business that would not survive the recent wave, and all efforts to resuscitate it are being frustrated by its owner.

Over the years, especially since the last recapitalization in 2007, the industry has been engulfed in a brawl between the laggards and the high-fliers. While the underperforming entities constantly have issues of delay in claims payment, which has created distrust for the general insurance proposition in Nigeria, the “high-fliers” have continued to battle that narrative through increasing levels of efficiency.

READ: Insurance companies to report over N100 billion in claims in 2020

NAICOM has also been coming up with policies to ensure seamless insurance delivery. Recall that in 2019, NAICOM instituted measures to ensure that players in the industry make prompt claims and benefits settlement a priority as part of its quest to restore the eroding public trust for Insurance in Nigeria.

Since the policy of recapitalization was proposed by the regulator, activities have intensified in the industry as players seek to meet the stated deadlines. For instance, we saw a flurry of bonus issuance of shares in December 2020, as firms sought to meet the Phase I deadline by converting retained earnings to paid-up capital as directed by NAICOM. This followed in the track of the series of takeovers that were announced in late 2019 and early 2020. We note that beyond improving underwriting capacity in the industry, the recapitalization exercise would eliminate operationally weak firms that have been a spanner in the wheel of the industry over time.

READ: Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa secures $100m investment in Nigeria data center

In our view, there is enormous potential for the players in the insurance industry in Nigeria given its untapped potentials as insurance penetration remains significantly low. To tap into this, however, would require players to come up with innovative products.

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One of such innovative ideas in our view is developing products targeted at millennials and Gen Z, who are currently excluded from the insurance net in Nigeria; despite constituting a sizeable number of Nigeria’s population. Opportunities in the insurance industry are widely unexplored and a combination of favourable policies from NAICOM and efficient delivery by surviving players can help open more untapped areas.


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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