The Nigerian Bar Association’s Business Law Conference is underway in Abuja with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement top of the agenda. Olumide Akpata, chairman, NBA- Section on business law spoke at the opening ceremony, his last as chairman, on the importance of educating young lawyers and encouraging specialisation.
There is an overwhelming recognition among delegates that a country’s laws can be used to stimulate trade between African nations. This, and inspiring young lawyers to understand the technicalities of free trade and to specialise in it, is the overriding theme of the Pan African conference which is taking place from June 27 to 29, 2018.
The 12th Annual Business Law Conference, hosted by the Nigerian Bar Association, is looking at how to reduce legal barriers on the continent to enable free flow of goods and capital. The focus is on business law.
The conference takes place on the heels of the first signings of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in March 2018. Then, at a meeting in Kigali in Rwanda, 44 of the 55 members of the AU signed the agreement to remove tariffs from 90% of goods.
The Abuja conference is hosting a top-level panel of global speakers addressing topics ranging from inter country relations, movement of labour, finance, e-commerce, competition, standardization and regulation, transport connectivity, dispute resolution and the legal profession.
Among the speakers is Dr Faizel Ismail, economics and law professor from the University of Cape Town. Dr Ismail’s wealth of experience in international trade and economic development for the South African government, including as chief trade negotiator with the European Union, Southern African Development Community, Southern African Customs Union and in bi-lateral trade relationships, will give delegates insight on how best to proceed with intra-Africa trade relationships.
Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe, the chief trade negotiator for Nigeria and the director-general of the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations, will also be on the podium. He was the chairman of the negotiating forum for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and chairman of the AfCFTA Technical Working Group on trade in services. As the person who led the AfCFTA negotiating forum to the successful conclusion of Stage 1, there is no-one better placed to outline the plans for free trade on the continent.
Stephen Karingi, the director of the Capacity Development Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), will share his insights in macro-economics and the regional integration.
Scott Cowan and Wendy Bampton, co-founders of Africa Legal, are attending the conference and will discuss with delegates and attendees the opening up of opportunities for all working in legal services in Africa through the use of new technology. By exposing high performers and enabling communication, through a platform like Africa Legal, relationships in legal and business services are becoming more fluid, Cowan has found.
Sessions include financing intra-African trade and will look at how key stakeholders can raise financing to ensure the ambition of a free trade zone becomes a reality.
There are concerns in some countries about reducing restrictions on the movement of goods, labour and services in Africa. The conference will provide an opportunity for these to be considered by a fresh set of minds working in the legal context.
The old bugbear of Africa’s transport network and how they could undermine continental trade is on the agenda but in the context of adopting a multi-model approach that includes air, road, rail and sea.
Of course, there will be discussion focussed on lawyers and how they can expand their skills to take advantage of opportunities that lie ahead.
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