Why Nigeria Refused To Sign Free Trade Agreement

Beyond the initial hype around the Kigali Summit in 2018, Africa was not immune to the debates on the free trade economy that governed the 2010s. In Abuja, Nigeria`s capital, politicians and lobbyists are concerned about the collapse of weak local industries and the loss of economic influence in the region. Nigeria is Africa`s largest economy, making it the most remarkable non-signatory to the AfCFTA. The president of Nigeria`s largest trade union – which has successfully fought Nigeria`s participation in the AfCFTA – has made AfCFTA an “extremely dangerous and radioactive neoliberal political initiative… who wants to open our seaports, airports and other enterprises to unbridled foreign interference that has never been experienced in the history of the country.” Yet Nigeria is currently the largest concentration of people living in extreme poverty in the world, with the group most affected being children and young people under the age of 15. Worse, that number is increasing. There must be something. Nigeria`s chief trade negotiator and director general, the Nigerian Trade Negotiations Bureau, Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe, recently said Nigeria was finally preparing to sign at the 2019 World Economic Forum that Rwandan President Paul Kagame and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa were being touted as leaders in the new global context. On the AfCFTA, both scored points. First, with 1.2 billion people in 55 countries, the benefits of cooperation are far better than the ability to act as small fragmented markets in the new world order. Second, AfCFTA offers enormous opportunities for manufacturing and small, medium and large enterprises. This will boost intra-community trade, create jobs, improve skills development and ensure best practices through smart competition between countries.

Nigeria was not the only major economy to be cautious – South Africa did not sign at first, but it did a few months later. Buhari decided to wait until after the 2019 parliamentary elections, for which he had to consolidate his support on the ground. After winning, he turned to afCFTA and had to revive the economy and was the only one of the continent`s 54 countries not to be part of the agreement because of the conflict with Ethiopia. Much has been said about Nigeria`s embarrassing withdrawal from the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement earlier this year, after initially pledging to sign it.

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