The African Development Bank (AfDB) has expressed optimism that Nigeria, the largest country on the continent will soon ratify the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement.
The Director, Industrial and Trade Development of AfDB, Dr Abdu Mukhtar, said this in an interview with newsmen on Sunday.
The CFTA was adopted on March 21, 2018 and has presently been ratified by 22 African countries.
It seeks to create a single market for goods and services and movement of persons to deepen economic integration of the continent among others.
According to Mukhtar, Nigeria is an important country for the CFTA and for the agreement to be effective useful and really worthwhile, Nigeria has to be part of it.
He said:“From what we are hearing, I think Nigeria is finalising their discussions with key stakeholders.
“I understand the Nigeria government has been making consultations with the private sector, manufacturers association and so on.
“I have been talking to some of these people in Nigeria and I think the reason why they have been skeptical is that they don’t understand what is in it for them.
“So, what we could also do as a bank to provide that support to the Nigerian private sector is to organise a session for them.
“We did that two weeks ago in Abidjan as a test case, brought all the business people in Cote d’Ivoire and neighbouring countries and basically explained to them what the CFTA is.
“The private sector is the engine of growth in any country, so it is natural that they are apprehensive about what it means for them.
“They are apprehensive of whether it will benefit them or whether their market will be swollen by companies from other countries.
“So, I think that is the issue, but we are very confident that the Nigerian government will conclude on this consultation very soon and officially join.’’
Mukhtar, however said that the AfDB was working at ensuring the success of the CFTA and had gotten approval from its Board of Directors to support submission of the CFTA secretariat.
He said the location for the secretariat was still being deliberated upon by the African Union adding that the AfDB had already secured the finances to support the secretariat where ever it was situated.
The director said the African Union was aware that establishing the secretariat as soon as possible was very important while expressing optimism that it would be concluded by this year.
On integrating the continent through trade, Mukhtar said it was important to ensure the right policies were put in place.
He said the bank was working on that and also providing a lot of advisory services to countries in their trade policy agenda.
He said integration also required adequate infrastructure, building the right roads and so on and also custom reforms.
Mukhtar said AfDB had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Korean Customs Service to work with a number of countries to help them orgarnise their customs services.
He said the bank was looking at selecting six countries in the first phase, adding that he would be in South Korea soon to finalise the discussion on the countries that would benefit from this.
On the bank’s project in the aviation sector, Mukhtar said it was still ongoing as the bank would not relent in its effort to support the expansion of airlines.
He said “The project is still ongoing, we have supported air links , we are doing it in two ways , one is to establish the basic infrastructure, supporting airport that will act as house in various regions.
“And secondly, working with airlines that will connect effectively across the continent and one good example is the Ethiopian airlines.
“The bank has actually supported the expansion of Ethiopian airlines, we have recently supported air Cote d’ Ivoire which is also expanding its routes, the linkages to various places across the continent.
“We are playing and will continue to play a great role in this because for the bank, integration is really important.’’
He urged business owners and entrepreneurs on the continent to ensure they trade within the continent to increase our rate of trade to meet up with the Europeans and Latin Americans.
On AfDB’s involvement with Nigeria, Mukhtar said the bank was doing a lot of projects in Nigeria, adding that Nigeria was an important member of the bank.
He said the bank was positive about Nigeria and its entrepreneurs and urged it to take advantage of the bank when necessary.
“Nigeria should see it as their own bank, come to us whenever they have good projects that they want financing, especially on the private sector side.
“People think the AFDB only work with government but the key message I will like you to pass on is that we do a lot of private sector business as well .
“And we will like to work more with the private sector business and support their expansion.”