President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday met with visiting President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where he expressed readiness to sign the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
At a joint press conference after their closed-door meeting, Buhari confirmed that he would soon sign the agreement.
The Nigerian president, who earlier declined to assent to the continental trade document, explained then that he could not agree to anything that would undermine local manufacturers and entrepreneur in his country.
President Buhari followed his decision by setting up a presidential committee to widen consultation within two weeks towards understanding the economic and security implications of Nigeria signing the deal.
In 2012, the African Heads of State and Governments resolved to establish AfCFTA treaty to create a single continental market for goods and services in member nations of the African Union, with free movement of business persons and investments using a single currency.
Consultations and negotiations for establishing the treaty commenced in June 2015 during the 26th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Johannesburg, South Africa.
After several years, the draft agreement was finally signed on March 21, 2018 during the 18th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Governments in Kigali, Rwanda.
But President Buhari yesterday explained that he was always careful when it comes to signing agreements, especially when such would not augur well for the upcoming industries in Nigeria.
"I am very careful about what I sign, whether it is my checkbook or agreements, especially when it involves nation, states.
"We are so populated and have so many young unemployed citizens and our industries are just coming up.
So, in trying to guarantee employment, goods and services in our country, we have to be careful with agreements that will compete maybe successfully against our upcoming industries.
"I was presented with the document, I am a very slow reader, maybe because I am an ex- soldier. I didn't read it fast enough before my officials saw that it was all right for signature. I kept it on my table. I will soon sign it."
President Ramaphosa said they discussed ways of strengthening economic and politics tiers between the two countries.
The South African leader used the opportunity to describe the xenophobic attack against Nigerians in his country as criminality by some bad elements in South Africa.
He said South Africans did not nurture any hatred against Nigerians resident in South Africa.
Meanwhile, Nigeria, Egypt, Côte d'Ivoire, among others, have become the early beneficiaries of the $25 billion intra-African trade strategy of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
The five-year initiative, created to drive value-added products and promote trade among the continent's economies, is riding on three pillars - Create, Connect and Deliver, and currently has disbursed $8 billion across the continent.
President of Afreximbank, Dr. Benedict Oramah, who spoke yesterday at the opening of the bank's yearly meeting and 25th anniversary in Abuja, said in Nigeria, there was the development of testing and inspection centres across the country in collaboration with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria; Côte d'Ivoire has industrial park, and letters of credit and financing towards the growth of Intra-African trade have been provided for many countries.
Oramah said about $9 billion intervention to various economies, including Nigeria, to stabilise the economies had been repaid to $1.5 billion as at December 2017.