Despite missed deadlines and repeated assurances, Nigeria’s ability to partake in trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as 2023 ends is doubtful.
Checks by Shipping Position Daily revealed that the National Action Committee (NAC) for the implementation of AfCFTA had earlier missed the August 2023 trading date for the launch of the second phase of the Guided Trade Initiative (GTI),
The GTI which was officially launched on October 7, 2022 is an interim arrangement aimed at testing the legal framework and Customs processes of participating state parties, before full implementation of the trade agreement.
Countries that have already started trading on the GTI as of August are: Rwanda, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania and Tunisia. The list is currently being updated by the AfCFTA Secretariat in Accra, Ghana.
The NAC office had a few months ago, in a detailed memo informed our correspondent that the new date for the launch of the Second Phase of GTI will be October 2023, stating that this aligns with Nigeria’s efforts to ensure that all necessary requirements and obligations are fulfilled before participating in the second phase of GTI.
Shipping Position Daily recalls that Nigeria again missed the October 2023 target that was set by the NAC. When contacted, the NAC noted that the nation is awaiting the official launch date for the second phase of the Guided Trade Initiative from the Accra, Ghana–based AfCFTA Secretariat.
Giving an indication that October 2023 was no longer sacrosanct, the NAC informed our correspondent that, having received the checklist as a requirement for State Parties to join the GTI, Nigeria has actively met seven out of the eight requirements, even though state parties are required to meet all eight requirements.
The committee however noted that the outstanding checklist requirement is the gazetting of Nigeria’s schedule of tariff concessions or tariff offers. It confirmed that the gazetting process is ongoing, and Nigeria has at the same time identified businesses that have shown keen interest in trading under the GTI, which is allowed in parallel with gazetting.
However, investigations by Shipping Position Daily have again revealed that Nigeria might not be able to fully implement and begin trading under AfCFTA in 2023, even as information gathered by our correspondent revealed that Nigeria is yet to domesticate the laws of GTI within the legal framework of the country.
It was also gathered that the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance are still in the process of formulating a legal framework for domestication, in alignment with the AfCFTA agreement.
According to a recent official publication by the AfCFTA Secretariat which was made available to our correspondent last week, the AfCFTA Secretary General, Wamkele Mene noted that the ultimate responsibility for the implementation of the agreement lies with the State Parties to the agreement, and one way to ensure effective implementation of the agreement, is the implementation National AfCFTA Strategies, by each country.
The AfCFTA Secretary-General lamented that most Member States have been late in preparing their national strategies and those who have adopted them are yet to start implementation.
Mene however stressed that it is paramount for the member States to keep working at building the capacity of all its officials, even as he acknowledged that trade officials and Customs authorities require a full understanding of the AfCFTA to enable them to verify compliance and provide support to the private sector.
“Generally, the ultimate responsibility for the implementation of the agreement lies with the State Parties to the agreement, and one way to ensure effective implementation of the agreement, is the implementation of National AfCFTA Strategies. Most Member States have, however, been late in preparing their national strategies, and those who have adopted them, are yet to start implementation.
“It is, therefore, paramount for the Member States to keep working at building the capacity of all officials. Trade officials and customs authorities, for example, require a full understanding of the AfCFTA to enable them to verify compliance and provide support to the private sector”, Mene said.
Speaking with our correspondent last week, the National Public Relations Officer the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Abdulahi Maiwada noted that as a pivotal government agency overseeing Nigeria’s import and export operations, the NCS has been assigned to enforce regulations linked to the AfCFTA preferential trade agreements.
Maiwada noted that one of the fundamental things the NCS have done is to develop a prototype of the certificate of origin in consonance with the AfCFTA Secretariat. According to him, the Service has submitted the signatures and stamps of all the Releasing Officers at all ports to AfCFTA Secretariat.
The Customs National Spokesman noted that the NCS in conjunction with the NAC has supervised and certified various corporations such as Dangote Sugar, Dangote Cement, and Dangote Fertilizer, amongst others preparing them for trade within the AfCFTA framework.
He noted that these certifications aim to ensure compliance with AfCFTA’s rules of origin which is a pivotal criterion for trading within the agreement while stressing that there are ongoing discussions between Customs and the NAC on effective implementation strategies for AfCFTA within the Nigerian context.
Maiwada emphasized the need to domesticate these laws within Nigeria’s legal framework acknowledging that this process which is beyond the purview of the NCS, involves collaborative efforts with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance. According to him, these ministries are actively engaged in formulating a legal framework for domestication in alignment with the AfCFTA agreement.
“The NCS is a designated authority for the issuance of Certificate of Origin, unlike what is obtainable at ETLS where The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (NACCIMA) provides the Certificates.
“That is one of the fundamental things we have done at the NCS. We have developed a prototype of the certificate of origin in consonance with the AfCFTA Secretariat. We have also submitted the signatures and stamps of who will be the releasing officers at all ports to the AfCFTA.
“We have ratified the GTI, but we have to domesticate these laws within the legal framework within the Nigeria context. So those are issues beyond the Nigeria Customs Service. I am sure the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance are working on how to draw up a legal framework that will be domesticated in tandem with the agreement of AfCFTA. The customs is also in talks with the NAC for effective implementation of AfCFTA.
On his part, a member of the National Action Committee of AfCFTA, Mr Segun Olutayo informed our correspondent that AfCFTA is a progressive journey, not bound to immediate trading outcomes.
Olutayo reaffirmed that the process of AfCFTA implementation remains ongoing, emphasizing that at present, no new updates have surfaced beyond affirming the continuous nature of this implementation process.
In his words: “AfCFTA is a process. It is not about trading this year or not. It is a process in terms of whatever you want to do or what you need to do. There is no update yet. The only information I can give you now is that the process of implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area is ongoing. That is the only information I can give you now”.
Also speaking, the immediate past Vice President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Chief John Oluya expressed worry over the delay of the full implementation of AfCFTA in Nigeria, adding that individual countries face various challenges in activating the protocols.
Aluya noted discrepancies among nations, indicating that each country encounters unique hindrances preventing the full launch of AfCFTA. He suggested that the AfCFTA headquarters is working to harmonize these differences. Aluya firmly stated that AfCFTA’s integration is irreversible, urging nations to adapt and work within its framework.
“The issue or problem we have is individual countries being able to activate the protocols. There are so many things that are hindering individual countries to hold the launch of the AfCFTA and it does vary from one country to the other. It’s not the same as Nigeria has, that Ghana has, that Algeria has, that Morocco has. It varies.
“So what the AfCFTA headquarter is doing is, I think they are busy harmonizing all these differences so that we can see into the harmonized system. But as far as we are concerned, it’s a forgone issue. We are already in it. Going back is not an option now. AfCFTA has come to stay and we only need to learn how to live with it”, he stressed.