Nigeria insists African Union’s free trade drive must succeed.

As negotiations for an African continental free trade area, CFTA, move closer to completion by December, Nigeria says the drive must not fail.

The CFTA is part of Africa’s plan to promote intra and Inter-regional trade, economic cooperation and partnership in the continent by 2063.

Also, negotiations have been on for some time for members of ECOWAS to open their borders for a common market for goods and services in the spirit of regional cooperation and integration.

At the opening of the high-level policy and private sector trade and investment facilitation partnership forum in Abuja, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said the CFTA agreement was the only way to deepen intra-regional trade and regional economic integration.

“Nigeria’s commitment to fostering regional integration through ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) remains strong, as we lead the ongoing negotiations to conclude by the end of the year the continental free trade area, CFTA. For Nigeria, there is no Plan B on the CFTA. We must absolutely succeed,” the VP said.

Mr. Osinbajo said the benefits of the WTO agreement on trade facilitation include enhancing infrastructural facilities, boosting productive and trade capacities, reducing transaction costs, and removal of barriers through reforms as well as improvements in the customs regulatory systems to boost intra-African trade.

The WTO had said CTFA, if fully implemented, would increase access to foreign markets by 39 per cent for developing countries, and 60 per cent for least developed countries, LDCs, with potential gains of up to $50 trillion per annum from African exports.

Mr. Osinbajo urged African governments to pay closer attention to challenges to trade facilitation agreement in forms of regulatory policies, infrastructural gaps and training costs.

“To ensure the full benefit by African and developing countries from the developed countries, it is important to leverage on our (African countries) commitments on customs cooperation and other elements of trade facilitation and financing of cross border development of infrastructure,” the VP said.

Noting that African countries economies were performing above global average, despite the difficult global economic environment, the VP said the gross domestic products, GDP growth rate, which averaged 2.2 per cent in 2016, is expected to rise to 4.3 per cent in 2018.

He said this positive growth was trade and investment, with most of the best performing countries among the non-oil or non-commodity dependent economies, namely Cote Ivoire 8.2 per cent; Ethiopia 8 per cent; Tanzania 7.2 per cent; Senegal 6.7 per cent; Rwanda and Kenya 6 per cent.

“The reasons for the good performance of these economies are good governance, enabling business environment for the private sector and market to thrive, macro-economic stability, large markets arising from domestic demand, growing intra-African trade,” he said.

In his welcome remarks, Minister for Industry, Trade& Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, said the decision to host the forum was to provide a platform for African decision makers on trade and investment policies and private sector operators to connect actual investors, investment communities to produce concrete outcomes and dividends.

He said the forum was coming at a time the World Bank just released its latest Ease of Doing Business report in which Nigeria recorded significant improvement in its global ranking, moving 24 places from 169th position to 145th.

The Minister said Nigeria’s progress in the ranking was not the final level the country desires to attain.
“That’s not where we want to be. But, it’s certainly better than where we have been before, particularly the World Bank acknowledgement of Nigeria as one of the top ten reforming countries of the world” Mr. Enelamah said.

He said Nigeria’s vision was to continue the drive for better environment for doing business until the target of becoming the easiest investment destination was realized.

The forum is the first in a series of partnerships in different regions between key private sector players and heads of national investment agencies, chief trade negotiators and senior trade officials.

It was co-hosted by Nigeria and the ECOWAS, in partnership with the WTO friends of investment facilitation for development, FIFD, on the theme: Facilitating Trade & Investment for Development.

The Secretary General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Mukhisa Kituyi, commended Nigeria for hosting the forum for African countries to talk about issues of development affecting their economies.

Mr. Kituyi who said the battle to drive poverty out of Africa by 2030 would be won or lost in the largest country in Africa (Nigeria), pointed out such success would go a long way to ensure the achievement of the continent’s collective goals.

He lamented the absence of integration, cooperation and partnership among African countries, arguing that without them realizing the sustainable development agenda of 2030 would remain a pipe dream.

“If we make it easy to do business, without making it easy to make products, we will be creating other means for import trade. Africa cannot pursue trade facilitation without facilitating investments in the continent, by building capacity, enhancing visibility of products and improving productivity of labour,” Mr. Kituyi said.

Other speakers at the opening session included the ECOWAS President, Marcel de Souza; Commissioner fro Trade and industry, African Union, Albert Muchanga, Director General, WTO, Roberto Azevedo. The President, World Economic Forum, Borge Brende sent a goodwill message to the forum.