Nigeria consults widely on African Free Trade Agreement

Cyril Okonkwo, Abuja.

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The Nigerian government is consulting widely with all stakeholders before taking a decision on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AFCFTA.
At the 12th Annual Conference of the Nigeian Bar Association, NBA in Abuja on Wednesday, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo said that wide-ranging nation-wide, sector-wide and industry-wide consultations were on-going to determine how best the Framework and the Protocols would deliver the best results for all stakeholders.
President Muhammadu Buhari cancelled a trip to Kigali, Rwanda in March this year where African leaders held an extraordinary session to sign the framework agreement for African Continental Free Trade.
Government had said then that it needed to consult more widely following concerns raised by stakeholders, including organised private sector and labour.
According to the Vice President, 27 Groups have been consulted in dedicated meetings, with Consultative Forums held in all the six geopolitical zones of the country.
Signing the agreement
Professor Osinbajo said “Nigeria’s decision to delay the signing of the AFCFTA and to extend consultation to include all stakeholders was to ensure that the country’s participation does not adversely impact the progress that has been made so far.”
He said there was need to ensure that the theories assumed in the agreement were adjusted to the realities that the Nigerian businesses faces especially when it comes to dumping.
“For instance, Nigeria is the only country in West Africa where parboiled rice is consumed in significant quantities. Beninoise consume white rice (not parboiled rice).
“Nigeria’s population is 17X Benin’s population & Nigerians typically consume an average of 15X more rice than Benin Republic mostly in the form of parboiled rice,”he explained..
Professor Osinbajo said records from the Thai Rice Exporters’ Association showed that since 2013, when Nigeria imposed a technical ban on rice by raising tariffs and later restricting access to FOREX for rice imports, Benin Republic has been importing progressively more parboiled rice than Nigeria.
The Vice President said the focus of the theme of the conference: “Bringing down the Barriers: The Law as a Vehicle for Intra-Africa Trade” was timely as it touched on the AfCFTAQ.
According to him, deliberations of the NBA on the ACFTA would further enrich the discussions on the agreement.
“The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and its Protocols on Trade in Goods, Trade in Services and Rules and Procedure on the Settlement of Disputes presents an opportunity for Nigeria to leverage its distinct position on the continent to expand its reach in trade, commerce and services across Africa,” he stated.
Complex process
Professor Osinbajo said that the establishment of a Continental
Free Trade Area is a complex process, with carefully laid out steps and stages.
Nigeria participated fully in the intensive negotiations leading up to the drafting of the Framework Agreement, which was followed by the negotiation of specific terms to set out modalities on the implementation of the Protocols on Trade in Goods and Trade in Services.
“At this stage, each country brings on its peculiar features and is allowed to enter its reservations while reviewing and assenting to the general terms. This is an on-going process to which Nigeria will subscribe, once we are satisfied about the full scope and consequences of the free trade proposal,”the Vice President stressed.
He said there was no cause for alarm following concerns generated by Nigeria’s cautious approach to signing the Framework Agreement.
Professor Osinbajo said the delay would allow stakeholders “to express their hopes, fears and suggestions in a most comprehensive manner.”
He reiterated that South Africa has also technically not signed the framework agreement considering the wide caveats it entered.
“We are Africa’s largest economy; the commercial attractiveness of our huge market is a no-brainer. And naturally, our brothers here in the region are keen to maximising the opportunities; we then surely should have a bit more work to do,” he explained.
Preventing dumping
The Vice President explained that there was also the need to prevent the dumping of finished goods on Nigeria by smaller countries who export raw materials and import 100% of their consumables.
He said; “these import-oriented nations have bilateral understandings with export focused industrialised nations. The bilateral trades enable the smaller African nations to import excessive volumes at subsidised rates, which products make their way, through legal or illegal channels, into large population nations like Nigeria.”
Professor Osinbajo stated that this excessive dumping of subsidised and sometimes substandard goods, from outside Africa was an attack on Nigeria’s backward integration and inclusive economic growth policy.
Mercy Chukwudiebere