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Buhari harps on success of Africa’s Free Trade Area

President Muhammadu Buhari says the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will succeed if African governments demonstrate a higher level of commitment to tackle the slow pace of physical integration, political co-operation and tariff barriers that inhibit business integration.

President Buhari was addressing the 2nd African Sub-Sovereign Governments Network (AFSNET) Conference in Abuja, organised by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and other stakeholders.

the President decried the low-level trade among African countries.

‘”As leaders, we must all be concerned that we are not trading enough amongst ourselves. It is a bitter reality that Intra-regional trade still accounts for a very tiny fraction of total trade in Africa,” he said.

‘”We have to understand that if this new drive towards a continental free trade area is to succeed, we must demonstrate a higher level of commitment to tackle the slow pace of physical integration due to geographic and political fragmentations, the pace of political cooperation, and difficult tariff and non- tariff barriers that inhibit business integration,” President Buhari noted.

‘He went on: “I am firmly convinced that with the right collaborative action, we will be able to record a much stronger pace of transformation.

“Through shared knowledge, innovation and creativity, we will be better able to cater for the needs of the African continent’s population of over 1.4 billion people.”

He urged the conference to use the network and support provided by pan-African institutions as a platform for the exchange of ideas, knowledge and skills.

He also urged the conference to seek and advance innovative solutions to support the common quest for the expansion of intra-Africa trade opportunities.

AfCFTA for grassroots development

The President commended the organisers of the conference for demonstrating innovative thinking by taking the AfCFTA to the grassroots.

He applauded the President of Afreximbank, Professor Benedict Oramah, and his team for committing $250 million as seed capital towards the establishment of AFSNET.

He acknowledged that the initiative was aimed at firmly establishing and deepening intra-continental trade investment development frontier for Africa, facilitating the reduction in the continent’s dependence on exports of primary commodities, as well as minimising the risks experienced due to strong reliance on global value chains.

“This opportunity, if properly harnessed,” he continued, “is a significant step for Africa to begin carving its own niche in the global value chain, from the constituent units up.

“This will undoubtedly complement broader programmes such as the AfCFTA, which remains one of the most strategic pan-African agenda to deliver inclusive and sustainable development.”

President Buhari underscored the critical role of the African Union Commission to the development of Africa, and expressed delight that the initiative would compliment the AU vision of achieving the 2063 Agenda, tagged “The Africa We Want”.

FG support and co-operation

The President assured participants of the full support and co-operation of the government in the implementation of the programme.

He lauded the outgoing Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who also recently emerged as the President of the Forum of Règions in Africa, for embracing the initiative, and being at the forefront of sharing and exploring opportunities that could improve production and trade facilitation activities in the region.

“Together, we have endured several challenges, from the collapse in commodity prices in mid- 2014 up till 2016 and again in 2020, to the COVID-19 pandemic, to the worsening impact of climate change, droughts, food insecurity and the depletion of our ecological reserves, and of course our fight against violent extremism and terrorism,” he added.

AU Commission to set up a Standby Force

The President, recounting an AU Extraordinary Summit in Malabo in May this year, said he backed the recommendation of the AU Commission to create a Standby Force on Terrorism on the continent.

“As leaders, we must summon the political will required for development,” he insisted.

He called for increased efforts in the fight against cybercrime, money laundering, drugs and arms trafficking, smuggling of persons and the reckless destruction of Africa’s precious wildlife.

In separate messages at the event, Governor Fayemi, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment,Adeniyi Adebayo and the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afreximbank, Professor Benedict Oramah, welcomed the need for deliberate action to remedy the continued reliance of Africa on external trade partners, noting that the AfCFTA provides the platform to do that.

Reporting by Abdullah Bello; Editing by Adeniyi Bakare and Tony Okerafor