From all indications, Nigeria is likely to fail in its bid to start trading in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) under the Guided Trade Initiative (GTI). This is because not all requirements have been met yet. Nigeria had missed the previous start date two months ago and is now on the verge of missing the October deadline.
In August this year, the Executive Secretary, National Action Committee (NAC), African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), Segun Awolowo, had said all was ready for Nigeria to join the second phase of the GTI. However, this is not the case. GTI is a solution-oriented approach that aims to facilitate trade between interested state parties by connecting companies and products for export and import.
This comes almost three years after the implementation of the AfCFTA, which entered into force on 1 January 2021, and the commencement of the GTI last October. Despite several pledges, conferences and announcements, Nigeria continues to lag behind in making the trade agreement operational due to structural challenges, lack of consensus on trade protocols and strategy among stakeholders.
Although the country continues to express readiness to start acting, the actions do not match the words. Seven countries, including Rwanda, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius and Tanzania, declared to act under the GTI framework in a pilot phase. Nigeria pledged to participate in phase two and although it started two months ago, the NAC said the nation is still waiting for the official launch to go ahead from the Accra, Ghana-based AfCFTA Secretariat, despite not all the requirements has been met.
The NAC said Nigeria has met seven of the eight requirements, although state parties are required to meet all eight requirements. The outstanding checklist requirement is the publication of Nigeria’s schedule of tariff concessions or tariff offers. Saying that the process is ongoing, the committee said it has still moved ahead with identifying companies that have shown keen interest in trading under the GTI.
The NAC stated that in view of this and in active collaboration with the Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) have conducted Rule of Origin (RoO) inspections under the AfCFTA on interested companies which are now getting ready to be issued certificates of origin and trade under the GTI.
Intra-African trade has always been very poor and has only gotten worse in recent times, while trade between African countries and Asia and the rest of the world continues to increase. Bottlenecks, multiple taxation, poor logistics, including other factors, continue to threaten the initiative. Compared to e.g. India, where only three mandatory documents are required for import-export processing, Nigeria Customs requires 12 legal documents and several illegal documents to process intra-African goods and services.
With intra-African trade at around five percent, the AfCFTA and subsequent GTI were supposed to address this challenge and increase this figure, yet the initiative has struggled since its inception a few years ago.