By Maritime Security News

The African Continental Free Trade Area which is a fallout of the Agreement reached and signed by 54 out of the 55 African countries has continued to generate a lot interest and scrutiny.

The Continental Agreement intends to create a single market block in Africa with the population of over 1.2 billion people and gross domestic product (GDP) of over $3.4 trillion .

The chief host of the event and who is the managing director and the editor-in-chief of the Prime Reporters online newspaper, Mr. Augustine Nwadinamuo went down memory lane to the year 2017 when the first annual lecture and awards ceremony took place. He noted that that year’s event had the theme as “Maritime Sector in Nigeria Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and that that of 2018 had the theme as “The Gains and Challenges of the Presidential Order On the Ease of Doing Business In The Nigerian Maritime Sector”. 

Though, Mr. Nwadinamuo also stated that the event could not hold in 2019 and 2020 due to reasons beyond the organisation’s control, but that they had put  everything in place to address the present curiosity surrounding AfCFTA  and seek to proffer answers to the relevant questions.

The lecture had notable names like Engineer Greg Ogbeifun, Dr. Muda Yusuf, Mr. Francis Anatogu, Barrister Temisan Omatseye and the chairman of the occasion, Barrister Osuala Emmanuel Nwagbara with some representatives of other dignitaries in attendance.

In a keynote address by Mr. Francis Anatogu, secretary of the National Action Committee on AfCFTA, he commended the organisers for the bold step they took in organising the lecture. He broke down his lecture into parts with the first as “AfCFTA six months after, how far, the second is infrastructure, are we ready?

The third is “Information to stakeholders, where are they? The fourth is “Information that Customs need, where are we? The fifth is ” Some of the safeguards that we need to make this happen, where are we?  And the sixth is “Coming to the Maritime Sector generally, where are the opportunities?

He went on to say that what AfCFTA presents is a game changer in terms of the other export opportunities for long term survival. He also spoke about the expectations of AfCFTA and stated that we may not be able to meet with all the rules now, but over time as we improve should be able to meet them all.

He added that the various governments, federal, state and local need to give incentives for investors to produce by building infrastructure and for the general populace also to be able to buy as he asked the rhetorical question” Are we ready”. Mr Anatogu also answered the question by saying that in terms of where we are today, we are moving, that AfCFTA he noted is a marathon, even if we have all the money in the world now and all the right persons in the right places, we cannot be ready. He advised that the conversation and taking of the right steps should continue.
In his presentation, Dr. Muda Yusuf said that if we are talking about trade, we are talking about competitiveness as this is at the very foundation of all trade. The product and services must be competitive in quality and price and this is where our emphasis should be laid. He said that one of the major problematic areas is the Maritime Sector because of the monopolistic nature of some of the agencies. The shipping companies, the terminal operators, Customs are all near or total monopolies. He noted that the Maritime Sector caused the delay in ratifying AfCFTA because of issues of lack of readiness. He noted that a whole lot of things have not really changed and warned that we do not go the way of the British who entered the EU and later had Brexit.
He prayed that all internal and external issues be fixed, power, infrastructure, legal framework and all the other relevant necessities. He agreed that the AfCFTA will benefit some countries more than the others and affect some countries more negatively than others. He noted that there is a report that recognised South Africa, Morocco and Egypt as the only countries that are ready for the AfCFTA by virtue of what that are doing in the area of finished products. He also noted that even in the ELTS the Nigeria Customs Service is grappling with the issue of the rule of origin. He concluded by saying that the issue of transportation is also very key and should be tackled along with the documentation process as he noted that we must encourage a lot of indigenous investors so that ours do not become a destination only for finished products to be sold, but also a market for the purchase of locally made products and also obtain locally generated services. 
Participants from various companies and agencies in the Maritime Sector asked questions and shared a lot of their experiences as the lecture left everyone fully enlightened, this caused Barrister Temisan Omatseye to ask for a repeat of the lecture on a bigger scale.
Engineer Greg Ogbeifun in an interview gave an overview of the trade Agreement and said that it will help domestic production of goods, create employment and engender intra-African trade and growth. He says that this is generally to help stimulate economic activities in and around the continent. He noted that Nigeria is not ready for the Trade Area as he said that we may loose out in the Agreement as we are not manufacturing much. He also reiterated the points made by the two paper presenters about the lack of awareness on the part of the general populace. 
The chairman of the occasion Barrister Osuala Emmanuel Nwagbara also spoke to pressmen after the lecture and also spoke on the need to create better awareness and said that AfCFTA is work in progress as the committee put in place seem to be working through the right direction. He decried the infrastructural deficit in all areas of our national life and said that we need to up our game in those areas where we have push backs. He said that the need for a proper inter-agency synchronisation of activities cannot be overemphasized as in his words this is also an area where we have push backs.
It was generally noted that though we are not really ready to take advantage of the inherent benefits in the Agreement, but that taking the proper and needed steps in the right direction will ensure that all derivable benefits could be achieved within a short time.
Some of the participants were also presented with deserving awards of recognition for the different roles that they play in contributing to the development of the Nigerian economy.

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