Manufacturers decry challenges in intra-Africa trade, say AfCFTA has not worked

MORE than two years after trading started on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) platform on January 1, 2021, manufacturers in Nigeria say they are finding it more challenging to take their products to neighbouring African countries.

This comes as stakeholders who are gathered for the Afreximbank Annual Meetings (AAM2023), closing today, June 21, call for more intra-African trade synergy.

Egypt’s finance minister and chairman of the Afreximbank annual meeting, Mohamed Maait, told participants that Africans must work collaboratively towards finding integrated solutions to the new challenges confronting the continent.

The secretary-general of the AfCFTA Secretariat, Wamkele Mene, said if the continent did not eliminate barriers in trade and finance, all the efforts would have been wasted.

Against the backdrop of this call, the national president of the Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN), Saviour Iche, told The ICIR that “the AfCFTA has not worked.”

According to Iche, who produces cosmetics, there are restrictions on taking products from Nigeria to Togo, Ghana and other neighbouring countries.

The AMEN president alleged that Nigerian products were being seized, particularly in Ghana, as a reaction to Nigeria’s action when it closed its borders to neighbouring countries in 2020.

“If your good is not certified by their regulatory authority, they will seize that product. Remember, 72 per cent of what Nigerians produce, both by small and big companies, are being sold outside the country. We only consume 28 per cent,” Iche said.

He urged the new administration to appoint someone with a business background that would listen to manufacturers’ complaints as the minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, and not bring in a lawyer or engineer to head the ministry.

He stressed, “It is easy for us to carry goods to China than to cross our borders to other neighbouring countries that we can ordinarily go around in less than 48 hours.

“Before, within a month, we had sold our products – as many as 400 cartons – but now we hardly sell about 30 cartons because foreigners are no longer coming into the country to buy.”

Another businessman, Isiaka Yusuf, corroborated on the challenges he lamented industrialists are facing in taking their products to neighbouring countries.

Yusuf told The ICIR that there had, indeed, been difficulties in moving goods across markets in West Africa and, consequently, manufacturers had been recording low sales.

Despite the challenges, the coordinator, National Action Committee on AfCFTA, Mathew Oloba, told The ICIR that African countries had started leveraging the AfCFTA to harmonise trade procedures, being one of the critical objectives of the Agreement.

Oloba said, “Scheduling of tariff concession on trade in goods has been completed by many state parties. As a way to surmount the challenges of the timely commencement of concrete trade under AfCFTA, trading under the Agreement has since commenced through a temporary arrangement known as the Guided Trade Initiative (GTI).”

Nigeria is on the verge of joining the GTI, and Oloba disclosed that eight countries, representing five regional economic communities in Africa, had met the minimum requirements, and were already trading under the GTI.

“Countries that are piloting trade under the GTI are Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania and Tunisia.

    “Some of the products ready for trade are ceramic tiles, batteries, tea, coffee, processed animal products, corn starch, sugar, pasta, glucose syrup, dried fruits, and sisal fibre etc,” he said.

    According to Oloba, the AfCFTA’s GTI had been able to help test the operational, institutional, and legal framework and trade policy environment under AfCFTA, and the readiness of the private sector for intra-African trade.

    AfCFTA is the world-largest free trade area bringing together the 55 countries of the African Union (AU) and eight regional economic communities (RECs) to create a single market for the continent.

    AfCFTA, one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063, is aimed at eliminating barriers to trade in Africa and boosting intra-Africa trade, among other objectives.

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