Sign free trade agreement, Ramaphosa urges Nigeria

President Cyril Ramaphosa has nudged his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari to sign Africa's free trade agreement.

"We say to Nigeria, no pressure… but don't take too long, because Africa is waiting for Nigeria and South Africa," Ramaphosa said, addressing the 25th anniversary and annual meeting of export and import bank Afreximbank in Abuja on Wednesday. 

Ramaphosa, who is on a working visit to Nigeria, is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Buhari - a first since he came into office in February.

Pressure is mounting on the continent's biggest economy to sign the agreement, which has already been signed by 49 out of 55 countries.

However, only six countries have ratified it so far. Twenty-two countries need to do so for it to come into force.

'Legitimate concerns'

South Africa has already signed the agreement but it is yet to ratify it.

Buhari did not attend the continental meeting held in Rwanda earlier this year.

Ramaphosa says the agreement, which will allow the free movement of goods and increase African intra-trade, represents a new dawn for the continent.

The continent has set a deadline for 2020 to conclude negotiations on rules of investment, competition policy and intellectual property rights.

"Integration, and the economic development that will accompany it will also contribute towards the maintenance of stability, democracy, peace and development," he said.

Under the agreement, traders won't pay tariffs on 90% of goods, while 10% of "sensitive items" will be phased in later.

Nigerian Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun, said the country had to consult widely before it could sign off. Different stakeholders had raised "legitimate concerns that needed to be answered".

"It's an extremely important move for Africa and everything has to be done right. We must never be in a hurry to do things wrong, we must get things right. We must do all the due processes," she said.

Flood local markets

Nigeria has begun countrywide consultations. However, there have been concerns from some manufacturers that the trade agreement could flood the local market with cheaper goods.

The meeting between Ramaphosa and Buhari is focused on improving relations between the countries and increasing trade and investment flows. Relations have been tense at times and there have been accusations of targeted killings of Nigerians living in South Africa.

Trade between the two favours Nigeria, as Pretoria has increased importation of petroleum products.

Ramaphosa is accompanied by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Police Minister Bheki Cele, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe and Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Bulelani Magwanishe.

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