With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement now in force, the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators (NICArb) has held a roundtable event to discuss dispute resolution mechanisms involving non-state parties with a focus on the implications of the current dispute resolution arrangement in Nigeria and how it will affect non-state parties.
The event which was held recently, virtually, had the theme: ‘AfCFTA and Non-State parties: Implications for Trade and Dispute Resolution’.
Jonathan Aremu, a Professor of International Economic Relations at Covenant University, while making a presentation on ‘Africa and non-state parties, implications for trade and dispute resolution’ emphasised that Africa was on the cusp of what could be a break in a previous decades-long cycle of poverty and economic shortcomings.
He, however, noted that breaking this cycle would depend on the ability of African nations to put in place policies and regulatory mechanisms that would create more trade among themselves as well as attract and protect foreign intra-Africa investment. He went further to say the enactment of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement was a huge step in the right direction.
Dr Ken Ukaoha, President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders, discussed the ‘Implications under the Dispute Resolutions/Legal Issues’ at the event and raised a number of legal issues.
He noted the first legal issue as regards AfCFTA is that there are no rules yet, no clear arbitration rules and procedures, yet the agreement took off in January 2021. The second issue he highlighted was the geographical location of the arbitration centre.
He noted that care should be taken because arbitration has gradually entered Nigeria’s jurisprudence in terms of dispute resolution. In this regard, if the arbitration centres are located in places that are not in close proximity to the operators, the object of Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM) would be defeated.
Therefore, he opined that all arbitration centres located around the Regional Economic Community (REC) should be considered as AfCFTA dispute settlement arbitration centres so as to make justice closer and effective for operators.
He further raised the issue of economic blocs as building the bloc for AfCFTA. On this, he said there is a need for a legal relationship between the AfCFTA and the original regional trade agreements for the whole of Africa. Also, there is a need to identify, appoint officers and train them on the division, classification, collection and quantification of non-tariff barriers, he said.
Also at the event was Dr Fatima Bello, the Deputy Team Lead and Coordinator of the Policies, Regulations and Laws (PR&L) Workstream of the National Action Committee on the African Continental Free Trade Area (NAC-AfCFTA) Secretariat, who spoke on the implementation of AfCFTA and provision of remedial measures to non-state parties amongst others.
She said NAC is to coordinate the activities of MDAs, the private sector and other stakeholders to successfully execute the AfCFTA, which will enable Nigeria to take full advantage of AfCFTA opportunities while safeguarding the economy from the potential negative impact.
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