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Nigeria Ready to Tap into $16tn Digital Trade Potential Under AfCFTA, Says Awolowo

Being a developing country, Nigeria has to take immediate advantage of this due to our youthful population”

Executive Secretary, National Action Committee on African Continental Free Trade Area (NAC-AfCFTA), Mr. Olusegun Awolowo, on Thursday, has said the country was prepared to sign onto the AfCFTA protocol on digital trade to take advantage of the $16 trillion market potential of the sector.

Awolowo also clarified that contrary to speculations, actual trading was yet to commence under the historic agreement aimed at boosting intra-African commerce, among others.

Awolowo spoke at the opening of the Abuja stakeholders’ workshop on the AfCFTA digital trade protocol, with the theme, “Preparedness for AfCFTA Digital Trade Protocol.”

He also said the Guided Trade Initiative (GTI) recently launched by the AfCFTA secretariat to get some countries to start trading outside their regional blocs, before the implementation of AfCFTA, will commence in April.

The initiative involving Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, and Rwanda will act as a prelude to AfCFTA kick-off and help to test the waters.

Awolowo said the digital trade protocol remained one of the most important protocols assigned under AfCFTA, especially as it represented a $16 trillion economy on its own.

He said, “Being a developing country, like most of the countries in Africa, Nigeria has to take immediate advantage of this due to our youthful population, and this is the way to go.

“I think it is one of the most important protocols; we’ve done the protocol on goods and services, but digital trade is going to be the future, and Nigeria has the biggest advantage in Africa to trade under this protocol because of our start-ups – we have the start-up bill that is now in operation and the various fintech industries are for Nigeria to grab and lead the way.

“So, that’s why we are very excited and, in fact, Nigeria is the first country holding a workshop on this protocol. This industry is big and the country has a chance to be the leader.”

Awolowo added, “The future of our economy is really in trade. I keep saying that we must trade our way out of poverty, and unemployment and trade our way into prosperity. And that is what we think AfCFTA is bringing to the table for us to capture Africa.

“We’ve neglected it for so long – we export to other countries in the world but we neglect Africa and that’s just next door. So, let’s take advantage of the regional blocs – ECOWAS – so we can export more into Africa.

“We will continue to build infrastructure as we go along. Trade in services doesn’t need a bridge; it doesn’t need an express road – it’s digital – so we go along with that. We know there’s an infrastructure deficit, of course, in all of Africa in terms of road, shipping.”

Awolowo clarified, “We haven’t even started trading in AfCFTA; we are currently going through the protocols.

“We are now at the stage of implementation and, so, trade hasn’t commenced under AfCFTA; it’s not an overnight thing, we have to go through all the protocols, sign them, agree – countries must agree and dot the Is’ and label the Ts…

“But we are thinking that we can start trading under the GTI; not on the main AfCFTA itself, by the end of April. So, it will be on record that Nigeria has started exporting officially and formally because, of course, informal trade is still going on, anyway.”

Awolowo explained the GTI, saying, “The AfCFTA brought the initiative knowing that trade agreements take longer time. This AfCFTA is the fastest one; how long does it take WTO to get on the ground and they’re still signing protocols up till today? But just to even fast-track it, that’s what the GTI is all about.

“We test the capacity of the port and shipments and cargo, then, the private sector can fully buy into it.”

Awolowo said the workshop sought to deepen understanding and preparedness following the recent adoption of the protocol.

He said AfCFTA held immense promise for Nigeria, offering myriad opportunities across every segment of the digital trade ecosystem; from e-commerce and digital services to fintech and telecommunication.

He added that the potential for growth and innovation were boundless.

According to him, to fully realise these opportunities, the country must view AfCFTA not merely as a trade agreement but as a catalyst for socioeconomic development.

Awolowo stated, “The adoption of the AfCFTA Digital Trade Protocol marks a significant milestone in our journey towards economic integration and digital transformation. It signifies our collective commitment to leveraging digital technologies to enhance intra-African trade, foster innovation, and drive sustainable economic growth.

“In the wake of this landmark achievement, it is imperative that we equip ourselves with the requisite knowledge and resources to seize the opportunities that lie ahead. Trade is competitive.”

Equally speaking at the occasion, Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Legal, Research and Compliance Matters, Mr. Bashir Maidugu, said the challenges in implementation of AfCFTA were not limited to Nigeria, but went across Africa.

Maidugu pointed out that only 15 percent of trade was carried out among African countries due to gaps in infrastructure, adding that Nigeria trades more with Europe, South America, and Asia than with African countries.

He said, “To improve our capacity to interact with other African nations, we need to improve our road network, rail system, and airports. These are challenges not limited to Nigeria, but Africa.

“Also, the Pan-African payment system, which is adopted by AfCFTA to ease African trade, is coming on-board and we hope it will be seamless.

“Nigeria has advanced when it comes to digital trade within Africa in the sense that we are dominating the financial landscape, for instance.”

Maidugu stressed that the country remained the largest market in Africa, leading in the digital e-commerce space, particularly in the fintech segment.

He said, “What the government will be advised to do is to encourage the youths and at the same time, other organisations, including professional bodies, and utilise the opportunities of AfCFTA to further boost the Nigerian economy.

“We are already the largest market in Africa and we are poised to reclaim our position as the leading economy in Africa; we are already the dominant economy in Africa.”

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