The African Union (AU) says it is optimistic that Nigeria will sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which came into force on May 30.
Dr Levi Madueke, Head, AU Strategic Partnerships, Bureau of the Chairperson, made this known in an interview with newsmen on Wednesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that no fewer than 49 countries have endorsed AfCFTA, which aims to redefine trade relations within African states and beyond.
It proposes creating a single market for goods and services, with free movement of people and investments across 55 countries.
The agreement also has a dispute settlement mechanism similar to the one set up by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
However, Nigeria, which is the most populous country with the largest economy in Africa, is yet to sign the deal.
Madueke said AfCFTA was conceived to remove trade barriers among African nations, in order to promote businesses within the continent.
He said: “We are hopeful that Nigeria will come on board. I don’t think there is any fear of Nigeria not signing it because we know every country has a process.
“I think Nigeria is taking its time and we are hoping that Nigeria will join us.
“A lot of African countries have endorsed the programme. It is going to help Africa to promote trade among ourselves.’’
Madueke explained that AfCFTA was part of the flagship programmes being initiated under the AU Agenda 2063, which is a 50-year plan from 2013 to 2063.
According to him, the programme is divided into five phases and a ten- year implementation plan, with the first phase being from 2013 to 2023.
He said: “Within the Agenda 2063, we have seven aspirations, 20 goals and 39 priority areas.
“We also have what we call the AU flagship programmes. These are the programmes we want to implement within a phase of 10 years.
“Those we cannot handle within 10 years, we will roll them over but these are projects we have designed to enable Africa become a developed and integrated continent.’’
Madueke said that the plan of the AU was to work with development partners to increase air, rail and road connectivity within the continent, adding that the move was critical to Africa’s future.
“We want to also ensure free movement of people, goods and services within the continent, which is being encouraged by the visa-on-arrival policy now adopted by many countries.
“We are also encouraging the regional blocs to promote free movement within the regions. ECOWAS has done very well in that regard. Other regional economic communities are also engaging in that.
“We believe that within the period of 10 years, we would have been able to achieve a lot.
“The most important thing is that we are poised to change the African narrative and make sure that Africa becomes the Africa we all want.’’