African leaders are going ahead with the agreement for the proposed Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) on Wednesday without Nigeria. The intra-Africa trade deal is expected to raise trade by about 52.3 percent by 2020, according to estimates by United Nations Economic Commission in Africa (UNECA). But with the continent’s biggest market showing cold feet, the deal takes a significant blow.
African heads of state, business leaders and major stakeholders in the trade deal had gathered for the Continental Free Trade Area Business Forum in Kigali on Tuesday. The summit would culminate in the signing of the agreement by each country’s representative on Wednesday.
However, the president of Nigeria, a country which represents about a fourth of the continent’s gross domestic product, had released an official statement on Sunday about his withdrawal from attending the African Union summit in Rwanda. Muhammadu Buhari was scheduled to leave Abuja on Monday ahead of Wednesday’s launch but pulled out to allow for more consultations with local businesses and trade organisations.
The move to delay the signing had come as a shock since the president had lent his voice to the urgency needed in signing the deal during the AU conference earlier this year. Added to that was the Nigerian delegation of the Ministry of Trade and Investment in attendance at the meeting, which also had other member countries’ trade ministers, to review the draft of the trade agreement in Kigali this month. It is also important to note that discussion around this agreement has been on for about three years among African leaders.
This sudden drawback comes after the largest trade union in the country, National Labour Congress, firmly criticized the president for not consulting with the business community in the country, warning about the imminent danger the deal brought to the nation’s economy. And it begs the question regarding why the government didn’t adequately do its consultation before now.
Undeterred though, other African leaders led by the African Union chairperson, President Paul Kagame, are forging ahead and are determined to stick with the plans to get the deal moving. The opening ceremony of the summit was positive and awash with sensational words about the potentials of the deal and the ability for it to be the “salvation” of the continent.
Speaking at the summit, Paul Kagame said the signing of the CFTA “symbolises our progress towards the ideal of African unity, but that is not the only reason why it is so historic. This agreement is about trade in goods and services. These are the kinds of complex products that drive high-income economies. African workers adding value in Africa. Services offered by African professionals using the latest technologies. Manufactured goods that are Made in Africa.”
The agreement commits member countries to remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods, with 10 percent of “sensitive items” to be phased in later. Business leaders and the continent leaders have always spoken positively about the ability of the deal to improve trade within the region.
Speaking at the Summit, former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo had rather strong words while expressing his disappointment at the withdrawal. “I am surprised that any African leader at this point in time will be talking about either not understanding or not very important to be here to support what we are signing. I see that as criminal.”