Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said that the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari recently "can transform Nigeria from a 'target economy' to the 'Africa Gateway Economy', boosting job creation through increased intra-African trade, and spurring growth through enhanced economic welfare; with an estimated 8 per cent increase in Nigeria's total exports."
Prof. Osinbajo however said that the provision of adequate, stable and uninterrupted power for businesses is central to Nigeria's AfCFTA readiness for the planned takeoff of its implementation. He said AfCFTA presents both opportunities and threats for the Nigerian market.
With the nation's internal market size, Osinbajo thinks Nigeria is well placed to tap into the natural gravitational pull for investment attraction, to promote retention and consolidate Nigeria's participation in regional and global value chains.
He said: "AfCFTA will also promote a vibrant and competitive industrial sector that is central to job creation and income growth. This will improve the human capital base of the economy. Enlarged regional markets will also provide a platform for cooperation on infrastructure development, technology transfer and innovation."
The VP said Nigeria's successful implementation of AfCFTA rests on four key pillars. They are trade capacity (production capacity and quality infrastructure), trade infrastructure (power, road, rail, ports and aviation), trade environment (trade facilitation, ease of doing business and fiscal and monetary policies) and trade enforcement (curbing smuggling and dumping).
President/chairman of council, Institute of Directors Nigeria, Chief Chris Okunowo, said the federal government needs to focus on the review and harmonise trade policies, identify areas of competitive advantage, build institutional capacity, address non-tariff barriers, develop safeguards, engage key stakeholders, build consensus and build robust infrastructure as it takes steps towards implementing the agreement.
"We should therefore pay attention to the provision of top-notch services, which can match the very best on the continent and improve competitiveness for export of services outside the continent.
"The best that we can do as a nation is to work with other countries in shaping the Free Trade Area to ensure a win-win outcome for all parties," Chief Okunowo said.
The central theme of this year's Annual Conference is: The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).
The AfCFTA aims at boosting intra-Africa trade by making Africa a single market of 1.2 billion people with a cumulative gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion.
It is estimated that the implementation of the agreement could increase intra-African trade by 52% by 2022 (compared with trade levels in 2010) and double the share of intra-African trade (currently around 13% of Africa's exports) by the start of the next decade.
In her keynote address, minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mariam Katagun said that the government would address issues that will arise in its policies during the implementation of the ACFTA.
She said while concerns have been raised as regards to dumping, the government is taking innovative action to make Nigerian products competitive.
She gave some of them as building strong institutions, creating the right legal and regulatory framework, removing bureaucracies and tackling corruption.
She also said the government would also remove barriers to trade, build mechanisms for trade support, create the needed environment for private sector to thrive.
The minister called on the private sector to come up with innovative ways of addressing the challenges facing the economy.