by Xinhua writer Guo Jun
ABUJA, July 7 (Xinhua) -- Dorcas Obinna beamed as she heard the news that Nigeria signed onto the landmark African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on Sunday ahead of the accord's official launch at the African Union (AU) summit in Niamey, capital of Niger.
The 35-year-old Abuja-based trader sees this as an opportunity to have her products enter other parts of the continent.
"In the near future I can export more easily to any part of Africa from Nigeria, and source materials at lower costs from any African country, with all the existing obstacles removed," Obinna said.
As Nigeria and Benin became the 53rd and 54th signatories of the trade accord on the sidelines of the two-day AU summit, the landmark deal was given a boost to help achieve peace and prosperity across the continent.
Meanwhile, taking into consideration of China's noteworthy positive role in the development of the continent, many African politicians and experts believe the China-Africa cooperation is set to go deeper as Africa's internal trade barriers are being removed.
TOWARDS AN "ALL AFRICA" MARKET
As Nigeria, Africa's most populous and largest economy, announced on Tuesday that it would sign the regional free trade pact in Niamey, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga tweeted that it is a "good and important development," and an "All Africa Market" will start to take shape.
In March 2018, a ground-breaking deal was reached by 44 African nations to establish a free trade area seen vital to the continent's economic development. Nigeria, one of the countries at the forefront of the negotiations, was notably absent from the signatories, saying that it needed more time for extensive consultations with stakeholders at home.
People pose for a photo at a welcome ceremony for the inaugural Changsha-Nairobi flight at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, June 12, 2019. China Southern Airlines on Wednesday launched a direct flight between Nairobi and Changsha, the capital city of China's Hunan Province. (Xinhua/Lyu Shuai)
President Muhammadu Buhari then set up a panel to assess the impact and readiness of Nigeria to join the free trade area. The panel on June 27 recommended in a report that Nigeria should sign the agreement which aims to boost intra-African trade.
Nigeria has an important role to play as the "engine room" of intra-Africa trade, said Sheriff Ghali Ibrahim, a lecturer on political science and international relations at the University of Abuja.
"For Nigeria, agreeing to sign this agreement will be of great benefit to all Africans and I see it as an opportunity for all Africans to be well integrated politically and economically," the scholar said.
With Nigeria and Benin signing the pact, Africa is taking another step towards forging a single market, which will strengthen the continent's position in the global trading market, and its voice and clout in trade negotiations, said Ibrahim.
At a ceremony launching the operational phase of the AfCFTA on Sunday, AU commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said it marks a "historic moment" especially in the effort to realize the 50-year African development Agenda 2063.
"The old dream is coming true," said Mahamat, adding that AfCFTA would create "the greatest trading area in the world."
Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat (C) announces the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement during the launching ceremony in Niamey, capital of Niger, July 7, 2019. (Str/Xinhua)
UNLOCKING POTENTIAL OF "MADE IN AFRICA"
The long-awaited regional free trade agreement is also viewed as an opportunity for African countries to ramp up production and increase exports.
"More than just a free trade area, the AfCFTA is ... the instrument for industrialization and integration with an objective of the aspirations of the Agenda 2063," said Mahamat while addressing the AU summit in Niamey.
President Buhari has said that African countries must raise their manufacturing capacity for the continent-wide trade policy to succeed.
"For AfCFTA to succeed, we must develop policies that promote African production, among other benefits," said Buhari, adding that Africa needs not only a trade policy but also a continental manufacturing agenda.
(L to R) Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, Egyptian President and African Union Chairman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou attend the launching ceremony of the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement in Niamey, capital of Niger, July 7, 2019. (Str/Xinhua)
However, Adetokunbo Kayode, a former Nigerian minister and current president of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), said these challenges can be surmounted if the country pulls its acts together.
"In any case, there are several instruments of negotiations in the agreement so we have to move along with the rest of the world." Kayode said the AfCFTA will provide the Nigerian people with opportunities and lead to the expansion of their businesses.
The AfCFTA, which encompasses 54 countries and 1.2 billion people, "will bring the promise of trade-led economic growth closer to reality for Africa's entrepreneurs, industrialists, investors, innovators and service suppliers," United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said.
It "will create jobs and contribute to technology transfer and the development of new skills; it will improve productive capacity and diversification, and it will increase African and foreign investment," Mohammed added.
The AfCFTA is "a tool to unleash African innovation, drive growth, transform African economies and contribute to a prosperous, stable and peaceful African continent, as foreseen in both Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," she said.
An applicant of Rwanda East Africa e-passport shows his diplomatic passport shortly after it was issued in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, June 28, 2019. (Xinhua/Lyu Tianran)
STRONGER TIES WITH CHINA
Africa and its external partners will be able to work together on the AfCTFA, and the continent will be in a position to share the growth brought by their cooperation, in particular with China, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou said when 44 African countries signed the AfCFTA agreement in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018.
Mohammed on Sunday reiterated the importance of coordinating continental initiatives with the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to spur infrastructure development across Africa.
The UN deputy chief underlined the need to invest in the infrastructure sector if the continent is to realize the full potential of the AfCFTA, stressing the potential of BRI in advancing infrastructure development in Africa.
Tanzanian Minister of Industry and Trade Innocent Bashungwa takes part in the 43rd Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair, also known as Saba Saba, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 5, 2019. (Str/Xinhua)
"We will be working with you to coordinate and leverage complementary funding sources, from the African Development Bank's Africa50 Fund, to the African Union's Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa, and China's Belt and Road Initiative," Mohammed told African leaders during the opening session of the 12th AU extraordinary summit in Niamey.
Yao Guimei, an expert with the Institute of West Asia and African Studies under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an interview with Xinhua that the AfCTFA means expanding space for economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa.
A trader (L) converses with customers during the 5th Edition of China Trade Week at Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC) in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, June 7, 2019. China Trade week is a series of successful Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Government (B2G) trade platforms across the Middle East and Africa covering multiple industries including building and construction materials, lighting, furniture and interior, technology, agriculture, textiles and auto parts. (Xinhua/Charles Onyango)
An integrated African market will facilitate Chinese enterprises' exploration in the continent, said Yao.
"Chinese companies will get more involved in fields like new energy, industrial chain, agriculture and agro-business, and financial services, enabling Africa's deep integration into the global value chain," she said.
(Habtamu W. Liben from Niamey, Ding Lei and Wang Hongjiang from Nairobi, Wang Zhao and Zhang Tao from Beijing also contributed to the story)