Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said the benefits of signing the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), is huge.
He said this at the 8th Presidential Quarterly Business Forum with focus on the Export Sector and a brief on the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA).
President Muhammadu Buhari had last week confirmed that he would soon append his signature to the AfCTA.
He had at the opening of the 25th Annual General Meeting (AGM)) of the African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim) in Abuja, disclosed that the consultation process was almost over.
Buhari had at a joint briefing with the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, last week in Abuja, said the delay in signing the agreement was because he wants to guarantee employment, goods and services in the country, adding that he was being careful with agreements that will compete successfully against upcoming industries.
The Vice President said, “With respect to the ACFTA, there are clearly huge advantage for us no question about it at all. The rest of Africa see the enormous advantage of Nigeria’s participation, everybody is waiting for us naturally and that is because they see a huge market, there are advantages of our being there. But we must ensure we get the best possible terms for Nigerian trade and commerce.
“Our experiences with dumping and other injurious practices makes it obvious to us that our market could be a real target, our local manufacturing could become unprofitable, our agricultural advantage could be reverse.
“Consequently, we have embarked on an extensive consultations with trade groups, manufacturers and organized labour in all the six geo-political zones in other to get a clear sense of concerns as we navigate the process of signing the treaty.
“I think the general resolve favours engagement but the concerns remains around improving the domestic environment for greater competitiveness, concerns of power supply and investment in infrastructure.“
Osinbajo said the government has noted the various studies that MAN will like to see done, adding “I think those background checks are important as to what works and what doesn’t work and what is going on with the industry and all that. I think those concerns are very crucial and I think many of them are being done already. But at the same time we must be careful not to give the impression that these are minimum pre-conditions for engagement with the process because the question of course has been asked when will we be ready? What is the opportunity cost of not engaging now? I think these are some of the concerns that we must fixed.
“The only way to go is that we must fix the gap, we must keep the engine running, there is no time for us to say let’s wait, take the entire time just to prepare. I think this is the time to go ahead and do something about it while we are taking into accounts all the issues that have been raised and making sure that we are negotiating well.”
Osinbajo said unlike in the past where treaties were signed without engagement, Nigeria was not only being engaged but was leading the engagement.
He said, “For the first time Nigeria is actually engaged and we are leading the engagement, this is something that has never happened in the past. In the past we found treaties that were negotiated nobody knew who negotiated them, nobody knew how they were done, nobody knew what was going on.
“I have been involved many years ago as attorney general in the federal ministry of justice, one of the critical things we did then was gathered all our treaties reports from 1990, I actually edited 10 volumes. All those volumes nobody knew who negotiated them, we just simply signed. But for the first time we have an office that we have trade negotiators and that is how come we are in the forefront of this particular negotiations, we actually went and poached Ambassador Osakwe from the WTO.
Because Nigeria is actually positioned today in Africa as the largest economy, we also want to be positioned as the leader in innovation, business, industry and to do so we have to have the right people that are competent, must be ready to work and must also understand this is how the environment work.
“And I think we have a big advantage in having our own negotiators taking the charge here. If we are the ones negotiating the terms are better for us than for us to seat back and watch other people do the negotiations that we may end up signing.”
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, stressed the need to be on the table of the negotiating while taking care of the concerns raised by the private sector else Nigeria will be shut out.
“If we are not at the table when the engagement is going on because those at the table are those who are deciding, so if we are not at the table we actually run a risk of being shut out. I have had meetings with some of the lead manufacturers and what we have proposed going forth is that, both Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and other stakeholders should join our working committee to make sure we engage. But the idea of not signing the agreement actually disadvantages us, it weakens our position. As have been pointed out by the speakers, the agreement is a ticket to play and I mean not buying the ticket to play is suicidal in a market where the consequences will be there.
“So I suggest we do both, we accept to play and also solve these problems and make sure the work goes on. And that we want to do collectively in a partnership. We are going be having another meeting with MAN and other stakeholders who are interested in continuing with us very soon.”
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said Nigeria with six export cities cannot be afraid to sign the agreement when counties with single export city have signed.
He said, “I hear that we are not ready. I am not a business man, I don’t know how to do business. But if the decision on whether to sign or not were mine, I will look at the countries that have signed. The interesting thing about the countries that have signed is that, unlike us where we have Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Owerri, six different cities that can land an Air plane and other cities like that, the countries that have signed are one city countries – Rwanda – Kigali, Niger – Niamey, Ghana- Accra, those are the countries that have signed and we are afraid?
“How much power do we have and we say we are not ready? Just listen to me and you can fact check this, as at 2016 Rwanda was trying to get to 106 megawatts of electricity, the suburb of Rwanda are on generators. The only place that I saw that has dual carriage way when I visited last year was the GRA, all their roads are one carriage way, but they are ready.
“Apart from the airport in Accra built by the American Nexim Bank, which other roads have dual carriage way? Because I go there. It might interest you to know the Niger Republic power minister came to see me, they are owing us on power but they are ready. We supply 150 megawatts of their power their entire grid is 250 megawatts, the 150 we supply they can’t distribute more than 110 megawatts but they are ready. Ghana has roughly about 3000 megawatts installed, they are distributing only 1,600 megawatts that’s a little above what Lagos is getting.
“So, do we want to play in the olympics or in the Para Olympics.”
The Director General and Chief Negotiator, Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN), Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe, disclosed that 49 out of 58 members of the African Union have signed the ACFTA agreement while six have rectified.
He said in ECOWAS, out of the 15 members 13 have signed, while only two Nigeria and Guinea Bissau, have not signed.
He said, “On current trend, the ACFTA should come into force by the end of this year, one point I should leave is this and you need to know because you are the drivers of the economy, Nigeria has not engaged since the signing on the21st of March. The reason I say this is that one, signatories including the team in ECOWAS are moving on with the development of the goods and services schedules and they will table them over the next few weeks with the AU with the ACFTA, so that work is ongoing.
“Secondly, with regards to the products specifics roles of origin, remember what we negotiated, agreed and will be signed are the general roles of origin. Negotiations have since resumed with the products roles of origin, I think you need to know that the world moves on nonetheless.
“There is a strong support for it but at the same time there is consensus by the private sector that there are issues to address on Nigeria’s business environment to address.”
Some business stakeholders at the meeting insisted that it was still too early for Nigeria to sign the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA).
While accepting that the agreement will be good for Nigeria in the long run, the private sector players maintained that many things still need to be put in place in the country before Nigeria can sign the agreement.
Among the infrastructures they want in place, include good interstate roads, power, access to ports, efficient rail transportation in the country.
They expressed fear that Nigeria may eventually become a dumping ground.
Speaking at the interactive session, the Chairman of NEPAD Business Group and former President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chief Mrs. Nike Akande said Nigeria is not ready for the agreement until Nigeria’s goods and services are competitive enough.
She pointed out that the government cannot do it alone, otherwise the country will become a dumping ground.
According to her, good infrastructure is key to promoting trade and investment.
Also speaking, the Vice President of the North-West Zone of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Engineer Ibrahim Usman, said “We are not against signing the agreement, but if we don’t get this right, we will be in trouble.
“We agree that the agreement is for services and not goods. If things are still work in progress, why the hurry?” he queried
He also urged the government to urgently conduct three studies including export market survey, study on national economic industrial product survey and study of liberalization on manufacturing in the country as a whole.
Ministers, National Assembly representatives and Private Sector operatives were in attendance at the 8th Presidential Quarterly Business Forum.