Buhari, Ramaphosa left out as 44 African presidents assent to continental free trade agreement

African leaders agreed to form a $3 trillion continental free-trade zone encompassing 1.2 billion people but Buhari and Ramaphosa are yet to assent to the agreement.

Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa have been left out as 44 African presidents sign the continental free trade agreement.

On Wednesday, March 21, 2018, African leaders agreed to form a $3 trillion continental free-trade zone encompassing 1.2 billion people.

With Africa’s two biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, dragging feet to sign the agreement, the impact and aim of the agreement might be seen as diminishing.

Nigeria’s Buhari had on Monday evening, March 19, 2018, hinted his decision regarding the agreement saying the agreement must fairly represent the interest of Nigeria and by extension other African countries.

In a series of tweets, President Buhari “Any African Free trade agreement must Fairly and Equitably represent the interest of Nigeria, and indeed, her African brothers and sisters.”

He further said that his administration is committed to ensuring that all trade agreements signed are beneficial to the long-term prosperity of Africa as a whole.

“As Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, we are committed to ensuring that all trade agreements we sign are beneficial to the long-term prosperity of the continent. We are therefore widening and deepening domestic consultations on the CFTA, to ensure that all concerns are respectfully addressed,” Buhari tweeted.

In furtherance, the President said: “Nigeria fully recognizes & appreciates the efforts of the African Union Commission so far, regarding the implementation of a sustainable Continental Free Trade Agreement(CFTA) for Africa. We also acknowledge that our continental aspirations must complement our national interests.”

On his part, South Africa’s President Ramaphosa said he would sign once necessary legal processes were done.

“President Ramaphosa has undertaken that South Africa will become a signatory to the agreement once the legal and other instruments associated with (the trade bloc) are processed and ratified by South African stakeholders and parliament,” the presidency said in a statement.

This ‘feet-dragging’ act by the two biggest economy in Africa might have also encouraged Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau to stay out of the bloc.

The African Union started talks in 2015 to establish a 55-nation bloc that would be the biggest in the world by member states, in a bid to increase intra-regional trade, which sits at a measly 15 percent of Africa’s total commerce.

The project needed a minimum of 22 countries signing up to get off the ground and Rwandan president Paul Kagame, who  hosted the AU summit, hailed the effort so far.

Kagame declared the meeting a success after 44 African nations signed up to establish the free trade bloc within 18 months.

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