AfCFTA: Handling the challenges of communications (1)

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The implementation of the AfCFTA for the benefits of Nigeria is a very important programme. This is because it is very crucial for the growth of Nigeria and that of the African continent at large. If the FTA among about 500 million Europeans from countries that formed the European Union has helped them contribute about 33% of world trade, then I strongly believe AfCFTA among over 1.2billion people in Africa can grow the volume of export done by African countries from current 2.5% to more than 10% in this new decade. However, for this to happen, we must be ready to do the work necessary to overcome the challenges that will militate against the successful implementation of the AfCFTA.

According to the 2017 report of Deloitte on ETLS, the issue of inadequate information about the ETLS and hence the low awareness of the scheme among the businesses in the region stood out as a major impediment to the full utilisation of the FTA. Deloitte went further to state that the fact that some few businesses are using ETLS should have made the news of the benefits to spread but the bad experiences they had in trying to utilise the scheme has made it unpopular among exporting companies in the region. The issue of lack of awareness of ETLS among qualified companies in the region has also been underscored by other researchers. They stated in their report that the inadequate sensitisation and awareness about the scheme, the lack of information about the content of the scheme and how to go about the registration of products in order to access the numerous benefits of the FTA, is a major challenge that is being faced by companies in the region.

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This article and the next one will focus on proffering solutions to the challenges that have plagued the implementation of FTAs around the world particularly in the West African region. I strongly believed that, if some of these suggestions can be put into consideration in the formulation of the AfCFTA implementation strategies, we will not be experiencing the same failures that ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and other FTAs have been experiencing around the world. This is the first in the series of recommendations that I will be making to the implementation committee and this will centre on the issue of Communications.

The successful implementation of any FTA like AfCFTA is hinged on the man that is carrying the message, the means that is available to funds the communications of the message, the medium through which the message is being communicated and the content of the message of the AfCFTA. There is so much discussion on so many issues around how to make AfCFTA a success but not much is said about communicating the message and many research works have shown that this lack of information about FTAs among businesses constitutes a major barrier to the successful implementation of many FTAs around the world.

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To put the challenge of communication into perspective, a recent research conducted by 3T Impex Consulting Limited among SME manufacturers in Lagos showed that 67% of the respondents are aware of ETLS but only 37.5% understand the details of the scheme. This therefore explains the reason why only 4% of the respondents had applied to the National Approval Committee (NAC) domiciled in the ministry of foreign affairs to register products under the ETLS scheme. This corroborated the research by Deloitte on ETLS in 2017, which states that the issue of inadequate information about the ETLS and hence the low awareness of the scheme among the businesses in West Africa stands as a major impediment to the full utilisation of the scheme among the business communities in the ECOWAS member state. When asked about how they got to know about the ETLS, the responses received from respondents showed that the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), a body saddled with the responsibility of promoting non-oil export and general seminars organised by individual companies and organised private sector are their major sources of information about the ETLS.

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Finally, I will like reiterate the fact that the challenge of effectively communicating all the information about FTAs have been the major impediment and clog in the wheel of progress of FTA implementation in different parts of the world. It is my hope that the implementation committee of the government will adopt some of the recommendations that are being prescribed in this article in order to make the implementation of the AfCFTA create the necessary jobs that will lift out of penury, the tens of millions of Nigerians that are currently living below the poverty line.

Ayemibo is Lead Consultant at 3T Impex Consulting Ltd. He is the first Certified Specialist in Demand Guarantee in Nigeria and among the first ten in Africa.

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