For the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) among African nations to be effective and beneficial, the issues of safety and security of goods and people must first be resolved, the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has said.
The South African leader who was speaking on Wednesday in Abuja at the opening session of the AFREXIMBANK annual meeting 2018 in Abuja said he was interested in dialoguing with President Muhammadu Buhari on how to end the spate of attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.
The four-day line of events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Bank has as its theme: “Transforming Africa’s Trade.”
The focus of the discussions in the opening session centred on the AfCFTA, a treaty adopted by the African Union leaders in 2012 to enable them take advantage of the continent’s over 1.2 billion population to create a single market for goods and services.
Mr Ramaphosa who was the special guest at the session said South Africa has become an oasis that has attracted a lot of people, thereby giving rise to a lot of challenges, including criminality and insecurity.
“We have been exposed to unsafe environment, criminality and unemployment. That’s why people have tended to react in a way to safeguard their interests, which they express fears and concerns through xenophobic types of attacks on other people.
“Our government has been very clear that we will not support anyone who seeks to attack anybody on the basis of their race, origin or the way they look.”
He said the various security institutions in South Africa have taken serious actions against people who resort to criminality, particularly those who want to attack others from other nations and trying to turn South Africa into an unsafe environment.
The South Africa leader, who said this was the first time he was on a working visit outside his country since his election, recalled the support his country enjoyed from Nigeria in their days of struggle for freedom from apartheid.
He said his country was ready and willing to also support Nigeria in its development efforts, noting that the two countries were joined in such a way that it would be better for them to use the opportunity they have to improve their relations.
“When I meet the president we are going to discuss precisely about this, we are going to get involved in a dialogue, the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria is going to be on a more effective and improve exponentially.
“I want to see the relations between Nigeria and South Africa improve exponentially so that we are able to deal with the problems of safety and insecurity, the way a number of Nigerians feel fearful in our country,” he said.
On the AfCFTA, Mr Ramaphosa said he was optimistic about Africa’s future because of the decision by 44 of the 55 countries of Africa to sign the agreement during the Extraordinary Summit of the AU in Gigali in Rwanda on free trade
He said when South Africa and Nigeria did not sign the agreement, other countries kept hoping for a change of decision.
The South Africa President who said his country joined in signing the agreement during the 31st Assembly of the AU just over a week ago, said he wants Nigeria “not to be under pressure” to take is decision on the issue
“Today I stand here to say, Nigeria, no pressure, no pressure. I just wanted to tell you (Nigeria) we have signed. Take your time before you sign. We all agree that in this regard you should not rush.
“We have our own processes of approving international agreements. We needed to consult with a number of private entities and deal with other players in our country before we put ink on paper.
“We have done that and we will soon be ratifying it. Nigeria should be applauded as it goes through the process of consulting. It’s on that note that I say no pressure. Take your time. But, don’t take too long, for the continent is waiting for Nigeria,” he said.
He described the agreement on free trade as a new dawn for Africa, as it signals unity of purpose among Africans and a quest to work together to achieve a common goal of a prosperous and independent continent.
The AfCFTA, he pointed out, would make Africa a winning continent, as it carries the vision and aspirations of the forebears.
Besides, he said the agreement gives practical expression to the continent’s long held belief that the interest of any nation would become meaningless if they are not pursued within the context of a shared prosperity among African people as a whole.
Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, said Nigeria delayed signing the agreement because it was yet to conclude the series of consultations with various interest groups on its benefits and advantages.
She said once the consultations have been concluded, the country would not hesitate to sign.
The president of AFREXIMBANK, Benedict Oramah, said the Bank as committed to support the AfCFTA and intra-African trade, through a strategy to disburse about $25 billion to promote Intra-African trade by the end of 2021.
He said the Bank, alongside the AU, would also champion the first ever Intra-African Trade Fair to be held in Cairo in December this year.
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