Nigerian leading foods, mining, manufacturing and infrastructure conglomerate, BUA Group, has expressed its interest to support the success of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) towards bolstering infrastructure projects across the continent.
Abdul Samad Rabiu, executive chairman and chief executive officer of BUA Group made the pledge when he received Wamkele Mene, the secretary general of the AfCFTA, and Victor Offiong, the acting director, National Office of Trade Negotiations, at the BUA headquarters in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.
Rabiu voiced the group’s readiness to work towards the implementation and success of the AFCFTA agreement which when fully operational is bound to enhance development and transform the African economy.
Rabiu however stated that for the agreement to succeed, a lot of salient issues concerning the status of current regional agreements, including the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) to the East African Community (EAC), Customs Union, dumping, proliferation of small arms and illicit drugs, smuggling, the Trans-African highway and private sector/African Union/government partnerships, have to be addressed.
According to him, there is still a high level of distrust despite the overwhelming support for AfCFTA. He bemoaned the poor implementation of previous agreements citing the ETLS and the EAC and their failure to facilitate free movement of goods and services, coupled with appalling tariffs. He thereafter expressed serious concern over what he termed “a situation where people cannot move goods produced in African countries where over 90% value has been added to other African Countries.”
He further pointed to the fact that only 25 percent of Africans can travel visa-free to other African countries and the difficulties associated with travelling within Africa, which is more tedious compared to someone travelling into Africa from other continents.
In proffering solutions to the problems, Rabiu suggested that for the AfCFTA integration to be successful, there must be free movement through liberalized air travel, operations, and visa-free regimes across the Africa continent for businesses and individuals.
He noted that the continental free trade will also prove beneficial to BUA as its manufacturing and mining businesses are mostly located in areas that are potentially marked for exports. He cited the cement business in Sokoto, Nigeria which is approximately 1,000 kilometres to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and less than 100kms from the border with Niger Republic and also, an upcoming project situated at a border town in Adamawa close to the Cameroonian border. He explained that based on these, BUA is rightly positioned to take advantage of the agreement which will help bolster the AfCFTA vision.
He advised that for integration to become a success, free movement via liberalised air travel operations and visa-free regime across the continent for businesses and individuals has to be facilitated. He also projected that the free movement protocol of the AfCFTA needs to be pushed with renewed vigour.
Speaking on the issue of dumping, he noted that Nigeria, renowned for its huge population and large economy, has become a prime target for dumping for smaller neighbouring countries.
He lamented that these same countries do not permit the importation of made-in-Nigeria goods into their territories while they flood Nigeria with goods manufactured outside Africa. He concurred with the fact that though smaller African nations need to be protected to boost fair trade, measures must be put in place to prevent dumping and promote ‘made in Africa for Africa’ trade.
He opined that AfCFTA should initiate negotiations and an agreement should be crafted in ways to prevent goods produced and imported from outside Africa to benefit from the pacts which will in turn prevent larger African countries from becoming dumping grounds.
Addressing the issue of proliferation of small arms, illicit drugs and smuggling, Rabiu stated that they are crimes against economic, physical and territorial integrity and security of African nations.
He explained that it is one of the reasons that led Nigeria to close its borders with its neighbours. He noted that despite being in support of liberalising the free movement of people across the continent, more needs to be done towards clamping this challenge to the barest minimum.
On private sector involvement and partnership, Rabiu noted that the private sector has a lot to offer Africa. He stated that for cross border trade to work effectively, everyone, including governments, private sector and development financial institutions (DFIs) must be willing to collaborate fast to fix infrastructure to spur growth. He also emphasized the need for the private sector to be invited by the ‘Governments of Africa’ to discuss the way forward for sustainable investments and partnerships.
Speaking on the Trans-Africa highway project, he noted that if the Lagos-Mombasa Highway, which is about 6,259kms and the Dakar – Lagos roads are actualised, it will boost job creation and also facilitate trade like never before.
The BUA boss disclosed his willingness to personally mobilise ‘like-minded’ businesses across the continent with the resources required (steel, cement, etc.) to do these roads at a concession and guaranteed by sovereign African nations.
He urged for partnerships with various governments and the engagement of Ralia Odinga, the Special Envoy for Infrastructure in Africa to take the Mombasa – Lagos Highway into consideration.
Rabiu maintained that BUA group is more than excited about the possibilities of the Free Trade Agreement for the company, Nigeria and the entire continent of Africa now more than ever as he believes that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, if actualized and harnessed properly, will help spur development and trade within Africa like we have never witnessed before.