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After over eight months of waiting President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday failed to take definite position on Nigeria’s signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
This is despite the recommendations by the Presidential committee on the impact of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and Nigeria’s readiness for it, that Nigeria should sign the agreements
Recall that the Federal Executive Council FEC presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had recommended Nigeria’s signing of the AfCFTA, a decision that was later turned down by President Buhari.
The decision was followed by the inaugurated the Presidential committee on the 22nd of October, 2018, to carry out the “Impact and Readiness Assessment of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, as well as to address risks associated with signing the AfCFTA agreement.”
The committee was charged to, among other things, study the key issues raised by stakeholders, which included “Abuse of rules of origin, smuggling arising from difficulties in border controls and unquantified impacts of legacy preferential trade agreements.
Others include low capacity and capabilities of local business to conduct international trade, cost of finance, insufficient energy; and transport logistics infrastructure.
But Chairman of the Committee, Desmond Guobadia, while submitting the reports on Thursday, urged the President to sign the agreement, adding that “our reports show on the balance, that Nigeria should consider joining the AfCFTA and using the opportunity of the ongoing AfCFTA Phase I negotiations to secure the necessary safeguards required to ensure that our domestic policies and programs are not compromised.”
The Committee also recommend the setting up of a National Action Committee on AfCFTA to coordinate relevant ministries, departments and agencies to drive the implementation of the AfCFTA readiness projects and initiatives.
The President, while receiving the reports, expressed his delight at the work of the committee and assured that the “report will form part of the consideration in our decision on the next steps on the AfCFTA in particular and on broader trade integration subjects.”
Buhari said trade is important to Nigeria as economic progress makes the world go around, but stated that as “Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, we cannot afford to rush into such agreements without full and proper consultation with all stakeholders.
“Our position is very simple: we support free trade as long as it is fair and conducted on an equitable basis.
“The AfCFTA will have both positive and negative effects on us as a nation and on our region.”
He contended that for AfCFTA to succeed, the continent must develop policies that promote African production, among other benefits.
“Africa, therefore, needs not only a trade policy but also a continental manufacturing agenda. Our vision for intra-African trade is for the free movement of “made in Africa goods.” That is, goods and services made locally with dominant African content in terms of raw materials and value addition.
“If we allow unbridled imports to continue, it will dominate our trade. The implication of this is that coastal importing nations will prosper while landlocked nations will continue to suffer and depend on aid,” the president said.
He however, noted that henceforth, Nigeria will ensure that negotiated agreements create business opportunities for Africa’s manufacturers, service providers and innovators.
“The AfCFTA we aspire to have should therefore not only create wealth for investors but also jobs and prosperity for our vibrant and hardworking citizens. The benefits of economic growth must be prosperity for the masses,” Buhari said.
TONY AILEMEN, Abuja