The coming into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) last month has set in motion a slew of activities around the world.

While some countries are beating the drum of protectionism, others are pushing for free trade, which is strongly believed could be an engine for growthIt is against this background that the Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting was held in London from 9th  to 10th  of March 2017.

HM with Lord Price, Minister of State for Trade Policy at the UK Department for International Trade

It was an opportunity to discuss ways to boost trade within the 52-member bloc and how to counter the increasing protectionist stance of some leading world economies The meeting which had the theme: “An Agenda for Growth” was attended by ministers and representatives from more than 35 member countries and Nigeria was duly represented by the Honorable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah.

Addressing delegates, Enelamah noted that “Nigeria believes that a carefully defined trade-based Agenda for the Commonwealth is overdue.   This is why this inaugural meeting of Trade Ministers is a sound idea.”

He continued, “the Commonwealth has a role to play in a global economy in rapid and uncertain transformation.   The effectiveness of this role will hinge on an agenda that is modern and, in tune with the technological and policy realities of the 21st Century.   Such an agenda would need to reflect objectivity and realism.”

The Commonwealth has a population of 2.4billion people and 6% of people living in the area are under 30. The Ministers therefore focused   on how to expand trade relations between member states. In addition, they agreed to work towards increasing intra-Commonwealth trade from US$600 billion to about US$1 trillion by 2020 “On trade, our family has never been more needed than it is today. We all know that we’ve been living in troubled times and together we will have to look very carefully at what advantages there are within our family.   Intra-Commonwealth trade has never been more important, said the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland.

“There is a 19 per cent trade advantage within the Commonwealth. We must see how the global trade landscape can be changed in favor of that advantage and the particular factors that drive and differentiate intra-Commonwealth trade and investment be improved,” she added.

The meeting went on to identify key challenges hindering trade competitiveness and discussed how to overcome them through mutual support. Ministers underscored the importance of building a global economy that benefits all its citizens, noting that developing countries need an enabling global trading environment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Coming at a time when Nigeria is making attempts at diversification, some are of the view that this presents a golden opportunity which, if properly harnessed will create a win-win situation Nigeria signed the TFA and deposited the instrument of acceptance with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in January, through Minister Enelamah. The country is currently negotiating the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), which is being headed by Trade Advisor to the Minister and Chief Negotiator Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe.

All this is being done in the context of strong efforts at reframing the strategic trade and economic relations of the country, based on a realistic calculation of concessions and gains to be made, in a radically changed and changing regional and global economic environment.

For instance, in negotiating the CFTA, Ambassador Osakwe says that: “Nigeria is adamant that those who seek access to the country’s considerable market shall have to commit to locating (industrial) hubs in Nigeria, connected to regional and global value chains, as a  quid pro quo.”The country is also negotiating for investments in a range of sectors spanning automobiles, pharmaceuticals, agri-business, etc

In addition, it is negotiating tariff levels and trade regulatory conditions that enable structural transformation for industrialization, sectoral diversification and providing  “safeguards”  for Nigerian manufacturers and service providers Following the crash in oil prices, there’s no doubt that trade has a significant role to play in the future of the country. It’s therefore little wonder that Enelamah has continued to engage on trade matters at all levels.

On the margins of the Commonwealth meeting, he held a High Level Roundtable on Africa and the Trade Facilitation Agreement at the House of Lords which was chaired by Rt. Hon. Peter Lilley MP, Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trade out of Poverty.

The Roundtable highlighted the benefits inherent in the TFA. These include providing SMEs access to larger market; reduction in cost of trade; increase in the number of tradable products; impetus to the birth of new companies and expansion of older ones and encouraging competitiveness in international trade.

The Minister noted that the TFA is tied into Mr. President’s Initiative on “Enabling Environment for Business”.He went on to hold a separate meeting with the UK Minister of State for Trade and Development, Lord Mark Price on post-Brexit matters.Clearly, Nigeria has an opportunity to build a trade infrastructure that is instrumental to the diversification of the country




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