By Stephen Ubanna
It is no longer news why President Muhammadu Buhari had opened the borders across the country with Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African county of Cameroon after about 18 months of closure due to smuggling of Foreign rice, Small and Light arms into the country from these neighbouring countris.
The Katsina state born Nigerian President may not have wanted the Nigeria business Community to be caught unawares as the 55-member African Union, AU, which are at different levels of economic development had approved the Commencement of trading under AfCTA, on January 1st, 2021. AfCTA, according to informed sources is a flagship project of the African Union, AU, agenda 2063. The aim of the project, a source said ‘’to boost intra-African trade by providing a Comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreement among the member states, covering trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights and Competition policy’’.
Cyril Ramophosa, President, South Africa and Chairman, AU, which had midwifed the AfCTA, had re-echoed the Objective of the project when he said that ‘’it will boost intra African trade , promote Industrialisation and Competitiveness’’. The AU, chairman, had said that the project ‘’will contribute to job creation in the Continent’’ as well as ‘’unleash regional value chains that will facilitate Africa’s meaningful integration into the global economy’’. He further said that ‘ it will improve the prospects of Africa as an investment destination and expand the productive capacity of countries’’.
The Ghana based economic bloc , which has Wankele Mene as the Secretary General, appointed on March 19, 2021 was said have resumed duties at the Secretariat. The AfCTA, secretariat has been charged with the various responsibilities related to the implementation of the project by the 55 member countries on August 17, 2020. This may have been the Competent Authority which the NCS had waited for over the last couple of months to facilitate the issuance and authenticating certificates of Origin and registering enterprises and products within the region.
Until the border closure with Benin Republic, Niger , and Cameroon, in August 2019, the 2,400 Nigerian Companies , participating in the Economic Economic Community Of West African States , ECOWAS, Trade Libralisation Scheme, had dominated the ETLS. The ETLS, Authorities, Many believe that the ETL Authorities may not have much difficulty in collapsing the Companies and their products into the larger AfCTA market.
It is not surprising why the Nigerian President is optimistic that with the reopening of the closed borders across the country, the Nigerian, business Community, which had lost much due to non –participation in the ETLS, market within the period would bounce back with the AfCTA.
This may have informed why Hameed Ali, a retired Amy Colonel and comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, had already notified the Nigerian business Community about ‘’the steps that must be taken’’ to enhance their participation in the AfCTA, project to ensure its smooth and full implementation.
The Customs Comptroller General had said that instead of the Nigerian business Community proceeding into the market in a chaotic setting, the NCS, aware of its role as a policy implementer and which understands the importance of spelling out the roles and responsibilities of all the parties involved in project , had no option but to eel out the condition attendant in the African economic bloc implementation.
The Customs boss was said to have also assured Nigerians and the business Community of ’’the Customs willingness and readiness to play its role as trade facilitators’’, noting that’’ the service functions had been automated and systems driven’’. He disclosed that ‘’the service will methodically harvest and integrate all data associated with AfCTA into its system for easy deployment , access and use by the general public’’ This should gladden the heart of the Nigerian business Community.
As a prelude for the full implementation of the AfCTA, the Service, according to Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and Customs Spokesperson which is currently waiting for ‘’the report of the National Action Committee, NAC, on the list of the duties and charges waived for the Liberalised goods under AfCTA is not resting on its oars. Particular, is the list of the three percent non- libralised sensitive goods,10% liberalised National trade offers and 70% non-liberalised inclusive goods at the regional level.
A document made available to The Value News shows that the AfCTA, project which was launched during the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Niamey, Niger, on July , 2019, will be governed by five operational instruments: ‘’rules of origin, the online negotiating forum, the monitoring and elimination of non-tariffs barriers, a digital payments system and the African trade observatory’’.
As the African countries prepare for the full implementation of the project, AfCTA, many believe that the only country in the Continent which its big time Companies, could compete favourably with the Nigerian Companies in the AfCTA market are the South African Companies in the Service and manufacturing sectors.
Perhaps to develop absolute Confidence in the system’’ the NCS, has suggested that’’ each member country should have a representative in the Continental Chamber of Commerce to ensure transparency. The Customs Authorities had said that the Continental Chamber of Commerce will play a Complementary role to the activities of the various Chambers of Commerce of each country in the region.
The Magazine findings shows that the Customs Authorities may have been foot dragging in attending to Companies making inquiries on the AfCTA, because ’’there was no clear-cut directives concerning the tariffs for all the goods covered by the African economic agreement’’. The ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning agency had promised ‘’ to fully deploy the AfCTA services at the shortest possible time’’.
Ali, had told those that cares to listen that the service desire is ‘’to imbue trust in the system while guaranteeing the economic safety and businessess within the country’’. The retired army Colonel who could not hide his feelings had said that the Service ‘’look with optimism ‘’to an era of Complete economic integration which would lead to growth and prosperity for businesses within the region and the African Continent in general’’.