By Franklin Ocheneyi
44 African nations have signed up to establish a continental free trade bloc (AfCFTA) within 18 months, but Nigeria and South Africa, the two biggest economies on the continent, did not sign up the deal, diminishing its impact.
Others staying out of the bloc were Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.
In a follow-up yesterday, Nigeria Industrial Digest learned that the $3 trillion continental free-trade zone encompassing 1.2 billion people was ratified by 44 countries on Wednesday in Kigali, Riwanda.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, took a defiantly protectionist stance, saying the economic and security implications of the deal needed further discussion.
“We will not agree to anything that will undermine local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, or that may lead to Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for finished goods,” Buhari’s official Twitter account said.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Pretoria would sign up once domestic legal requirements had been satisfied.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame, host of an AU summit called to conclude the initial negotiations, declared the meeting a success after 44 African nations signed up to establish the free trade bloc within 18 months.
The project needed a minimum of 22 countries signing up to get off the ground and Kagame hailed the effort so far.
“What is at stake is the dignity and well-being of Africa’s farmers, workers and entrepreneurs,” he said.
“It would have been great if the two biggest economies on the continent, Nigeria and South Africa, had signed, but the most important is that the rest of the continent is sending a right message to these two biggest economies that we are moving ahead without you,” said Michael Kottoh, an analyst at Confidential Strategies in Ghana.
AU trade commissioner Albert Muchanga also put a positive spin on the absence of the top two African economies, saying they would soon join in.
“They are still doing national level consultations and so when they finish they will be able to come on board,” he said.
The African Union started talks in 2015 to establish a 55-nation bloc that would be the biggest in the world by member states, in a bid to increase intra-regional trade, which sits at a measly 15 percent of Africa’s total commerce.