Managing Director of Ecobank Nigeria, Patrick Akinwuntan, says the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) heavily linked to the financial services sector’s ability to facilitate the liberalization process.
Speaking at a webinar titled: Exploring Nigeria’s Readiness for the African Continental Free Trade Area” organized by Deloitte, he maintained that the Nigerian banking industry is ready for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
This is why he noted, the industry will be responsible for facilitating transactions, mobilizing savings, allocating capital funds, and monitoring managers so that the funds allocated will be utilised as envisaged, as well as managing risks.
For him, “Nigeria banks have strong capital and their operating synergies have been tremendous for the past five years particularly in the digital banking space. Nigeria is a leading player on the continent in payments required to facilitate trade; mobilization of savings required to galvanize the economy; focus on the SME segment, which is the largest employer of labour especially in the critical industries such as Agriculture as Africa is a continent that is rich in commodities; education of our teeming population and health.”
The Ecobank boss said for the financial institutions to adequately play their expected roles, they need to drive value creation by developing new technologies, scaling its payment infrastructure and methods to a pan African play to serve the diversified economies expected from the agreement.
Africa’s financial services sector, he stressed, “will also be relied on to provide the credit and support necessary for certain industries to move forward particularly the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors, which will be at the centre of Africa’s development goals following the AfCFTA enactment.
“Nigerian financial service industry has the basic platform to enable African financial services to contribute significantly to the trade area. The BVN innovation in Nigeria is unique, more like the social security number in USA.
“NIBSS, the hub for payment systems in Nigeria is a strong base that is scalable to a pan African payment network. In terms of continental expansion, we are beginning to increased interest in Pan African banks. Ecobank with strong Nigerian content, is a lead player in this space, with presence in over 33 countries in Africa,” he stated.
Earlier, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo expressed the irrevocable commitment of the Nigerian government to the success of the AfCTA, as it complements Nigeria’s export diversification aspiration as it provides preferential market access for Nigerian products and services in the vast African market.
“For Nigeria, the gains are significant. The AfCFTA would expand market access for Nigeria’s exporters of goods and services, spur growth and boost job creation, eliminate barriers against Nigeria’s products, provide a Dispute Settlement Mechanism for stopping the hostile and discriminatory treatment directed against Nigerian, safeguard the Nigerian economy from dumping and unfair trade practices and support the industrial policy, among others among others,” he added.
Flagging off the discussions, Chief Executive of Delloite West Africa, Fatai Folarin, said his organization organized the webinar to create awareness on the attendant benefits inherent in AfCTA.
The trade agreement, he continued, aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business, persons and investments within the African region.
The AfCFTA due to commence in January 2021, will pave the way for a rapid dismantling of such impediments to cross-border trade. Alongside the removal of tariff barriers, the AfCFTA will also focus attention on outstanding nontariff barriers (NTBs), an important step toward increased trade in the region.
The AfCFTA, the statement continued, aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Customs Union.
It will bring together all 55 AU member states covering a market of more than 1.2bn people, while in terms of numbers of participating countries, it is set to be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization.