Organised Labour has hailed the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to hold more consultations and deliberations on the controversial African Union Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) Act.
This is even as it opined that Nigeria’s weak infrastructural base would further increase the cost of the products produced in Nigeria.
Labour also acknowledged and commended “the vigilance of all stakeholders,” namely manufacturers, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and businesses in calling for caution on international trade agreements that could undermine Nigeria’s development aspirations.
Nigeria failed to attend the meeting of the AU in Kigali, Rwanda, last Wednesday, where the agreement was scheduled to be signed.
Speaking on the Federal Government’s position, Issa Aremu, national executive committee member of the NLC and vice president of Industriall Global Union noted that, while intra-Africa trade could bring economic benefits to member states, there should be broad consultation and participation in the AfCFTA negotiations to avoid what he called “pit-falls of past trade agreements, which have turned out to be more devastating and negative.”
He recalled that Nigeria’s uncritical membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the 1990s with attendant lowering of tariffs, trade liberalisation was the singular factor that led to the collapse of labour-intensive industries like textile and automobile in the country.
According to the labour leader “trade is the means to development, not the end itself, therefore, any trade pact must foster growth, create mass decent jobs and development, falling which it is counter-productive.”
“For Nigeria to further reduce import duties, as envisaged by AfCFTA will fuel cheaper imports and smuggled goods that would overrun domestic markets of local products, which, because of high production costs, are unable to compete, thus perpetuating “deindustrialisation, unemployment and poverty,” he said.
Aremu said rather than Nigerians agonizing over the act’s non-ratification, it is time for Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, to do “first things first,” prepare to engage all stakeholders on the trade pact, answer critical questions on the implications of the AfCFTA, for ECOWAS treaty, and Common External tariff and the contentious European Partnership for Africa.”
Aremu avereed that whatever the outcome of the deliberations, AfCFTA should allow Nigeria the domestic policy space such that the objectives of job creation and industrialisation as contained in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan and Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan are not jeopardised.
Aremu advised the Federal Government to be wary of trade pacts that are “domestic industry-decent-job-blind” adding that with 50 per cent open unemployment in Nigeria, development and growth should take precedence before trade deals.
“In any case, there can be no common African market without the 200 million Nigeria market” the labour leader observed.
In a similar vein, the United Labour Congress (ULC), while commending the President for putting a halt to the signing, berated those who wanted to “railroad Nigeria into the agreement that would have finally become the death knell of the fragile industrial sector.”
General secretary of the ULC, Didi Adodo, said signing the AfCFTA would only encourage industrialised countries to use other African nations to push their products to the Nigerian market thereby killing locally-produced goods.
“We are shocked when, at a time when other counties of the world, including America are resorting to protectionism in defence of their local manufacturers, ours is trying to open the economy to be finally killed. We reject it in its entirety,” he said.