As Nigeria continues to drag its feet to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement or ACFTA, its unclear stance keeps attracting critical news headlines.
The latest has the African Development Bank struggling to distance itself from critical comments about Africa’s largest economy which were attributed to its senior official.
The AfDB says its attention has been drawn to a story published by Sahara Reporters on June 16 quoting Director of Industrial and Trade Development, Abdu Mukhtar, who allegedly said that the Nigerian government does not understand the ACFTA.
“We want to state in clear terms that this is an exercise in journalistic mischief,” says AfDB in a statement.
“The Bank official did not make such a statement. At no time did Dr. Mukhtar speak with Sahara Reporters. On the contrary, he had a brief session with The Guardian, News Agency of Nigeria, and Daily Trust newspaper at the recently concluded Annual Meetings of the Bank in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.”
In the same statement, Dr. Mukhtar made the following clarifications:
“The Bank’s understanding is that the Nigeria government is consulting with the private sector, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, and other critical stakeholders, which the Bank considers to be a step in the right direction.”
“While initiatives such as ACFTA include discussions with multiple key stakeholders, the African Development Bank is optimistic that Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, will soon conclude consultations, ratify and join the African Continental Free Trade Area.”
He added: “Nigeria is an important member of the African Development Bank and an important country for ACFTA.”
Mukhtar also reportedly spoke about regional integration, entrepreneurship and the role of the private sector in the Bank’s transformative agenda.
The African Development Bank says in the statement that remains committed to supporting Africa and the ACFTA initiative, but respects the choice of each country.
Of the 52 signatories, a threshold of 22 countries — including Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya — have so far ratified the agreement, which came into effect on May 30. The trade zone will then be operational from July 7.
Nigeria has however said it is still conducting internal consultations. The African Union has repeatedly urged Nigeria to join a new pan-African trade zone.
The arrangement will cut tariffs to zero on 90 per cent of goods for member states in an effort to bolster intra-African trade and growth.
So far, 52 African countries have signed up, with only Eritrea, Benin and Nigeria still holding out.
Intra-African trade, which was worth about $170bn in 2017, accounts for approximately 15% of the continent’s trade, according to the African Export-Import Bank. This compares with 67 per cent in the EU and 58 per cent in Asia.
By removing duties and addressing non-tariff barriers such as poor infrastructure and inefficient border posts, the AU hopes to help local companies grow by linking the continent’s small, fragmented economies in an integrated market of more than 1bn potential customers.
The ACFTA was hammered out at the AU Summit held in Rwanda last year.