On 11th November 2020, the Federal Executive Council ("FEC" or "the Council") approved the ratification of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area ("AfCFTA Agreement" or "the Agreement"), ahead of the take-off of the Free Trade Area in January 2021. The Agreement seeks to create a single market for goods and services by facilitating free movement of goods, services and investment within the African Continent.
The African Union (AU) introduced the AfCFTA Agreement on 21st March, 2018. The Agreement is an attempt by the AU to achieve continental integration, which will allow for free movement of persons, capital, goods and services, with the aim of achieving economic integration, promoting agricultural development, food security, industrialization and structural economic transformation within the African continent.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari signed the AfCFTA Agreement on 7th July 2019. (Read our Tax Alert on this here). With the signing of the AfCFTA Agreement, Nigeria, together with the other signatory states, committed to a progressive elimination of import duties and other non-tariff barriers on imports within the African continent.
Following the signing of the AfCFTA Agreement in 2019, the FEC has now ratified the Agreement. According to the Presidency, the instrument of ratification will now be prepared for onward transmission to the AU.
The ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement in Nigeria is supposed to increase competition between the Nigerian market and the markets of other African countries. However, commentators believe that the continued closure of Nigeria's land borders may hamper the ability of Nigerians to take full advantage of the proposed single continental market. In this regard, it is hoped that the approval for the ratification of the AfCFTA and the recent exemption of certain companies from the land export ban signifies an easing of the Government's policy on the year-long border closure and will in the long term, allow Nigerian businesses to benefit from exportation of goods and services, particularly as it relates to countries which share businesses across the country's land borders with Nigeria.
With respect to the procedure for the ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement, Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution provides that "No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly." Based on this constitutional provision and the provisions of Section 3 of the Treaties (Making Procedure etc.) Act, it is likely that this the ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement by the FEC still requires an enactment into law by the National Assembly before it becomes operational in Nigeria in order to ensure that due process has been followed.
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