Again, the need for inter-African trade has been stressed by the World Bank as it says the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could boost regional income by 7 percent or $450 billion, speed up wage growth for women, and lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035, if implemented fully.
The World Bank said in a new report on Monday.
In addition, experts say the trade pact will position Nigeria’s firm to compete better in the continental and global markets.
AfCFTA represents a major opportunity for countries to boost growth, reduce poverty, and broaden economic inclusion.
The report suggests that achieving these gains will be particularly important given the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, which is expected to cause up to $79 billion in output losses in Africa in 2020. The pandemic has already caused major disruptions to trade across the continent, including in critical goods such as medical supplies and food.
Most of AfCFTA’s income gains are likely to come from measures that cut red tape and simplify customs procedures. Tariff liberalisation accompanied by a reduction in non-tariff barriers—such as quotas and rules of origin—would boost income by 2.4 percent, or about $153 billion.
The remainder—$292 billion—would come from trade-facilitation measures that reduce red tape, lower compliance costs for businesses engaged in trade, and make it easier for African businesses to integrate into global supply chains.
It could be recalled that initially, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) was the biggest opposition to the AfCFTA, arguing that ratifying the agreement could kill industries in Nigeria. MAN had said it was important for Nigeria to position local manufacturers for competitiveness first before ratifying the AfCFTA.
However, the association later made a U-turn, saying African nations needed to trade more with one another.
“MAN recognises the imperativeness of creating a beneficial free trade area for export of the products of members and has strongly worked assiduously to promote the articulation of evidence-based positions on AfCFTA,” Mansur Ahmed, president of MAN, said at a South-West sensitisation workshop in Lagos in February 2020.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) is backing the trade deal, arguing that if smaller African countries are not afraid of it, Nigeria with 200 million people and humongous $430 billion GDP, must grab it with both hands.
Muda Yusuf, director-general, LCCI, told BusinessDay in 2019 that multinationals would be the biggest beneficiaries when the AfCFTA started.
“Mostly multinationals and large enterprises are in a better position to gain from AfCFTA because their economies of scale will improve. They have the big market and the capacity,” Yusuf had said.
“The continental trade is more about economies of scale and the amount of what you produce. The higher you produce, the lower the unit cost, which is why small companies will benefit but not as much as large firms,” he further said.
AfCFTA seeks to liberalise trade among African countries. It is targeted at a ‘borderless’ Africa, with an eye on a single market for goods and services on the continent. It was supposed to start in July 1, 2020, but has been postponed to January 2021 owing to COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts believe AfCFTA is easily the largest trade agreement since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1994 and a flagship project of Africa’s Agenda 2063, targeted at creating a single market for 1.2 billion people and exposing each country to a $3.4 trillion market opportunity on the continent.
The AfCFTA is expected to raise Africa’s nominal GDP to $6.7 trillion by 2030 if all the countries sign up.
The treaty liberalises 90 percent of products manufactured in Africa, meaning that a country can only protect 10 percent of its local industries.
Bismark Rewane, CEO, Financial Derivatives, said the AfCFTA would favour Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Ghana, among others, but warned that any government that was not effective would fail within the AfCFTA environment.
“Nigeria will benefit. But it will forced to be effective because if not, people can easily go to Cotonou to set up plants,” he told Channels TV in 2019, adding that government failures would be glaring under the trade arrangement.