President, National Association of Nigeria Traders (NANTS), Mr Ken Ukaoha, has advocated for the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN) to coordinate the formulation of a negotiating strategy for Nigeria.
Ukaoha said in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday that the Federal Executive Council had in May 2017 approved the establishment of NOTN as the standing negotiating body for Nigeria.
According to him, it would leapfrog the nation’s socio-economic status and set Nigeria on the path of industrialization and diversification into the global value chains.
He said that the creation of NOTN has been seen by many as a step in the right direction.
“The commendation is premised on the fact that there are many benefits and cross-cutting influence that the office will bring on Nigeria’s trade policy and economic diplomacy.
“Nigeria can now have a coordinating point for harvesting interests and concerns of the various stakeholders and actors on trade and turn them into technical positions and national agenda at the negotiation tables,’’ Ukaoha said.
He said that NOTN would bring to an end the era where every minister or ministry can go out and negotiate or sign trade agreements on behalf of Nigeria.
“It is on record that Nigeria has several existing trade agreements signed by past ministers or their representatives, yet many of these have not yielded needed economic dividend for Nigeria and Nigerians,’’ Ukaoha said.
He said that most of the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) signed by Nigeria were nothing but investment protection agreements which favoured foreign investors with investments in the country.
Ukaoha said that foreign investors enjoyed tax holidays and other incentives, whereas Nigeria and Nigerians had little or no corresponding investment or market access in such countries.
According to him, Nigeria did everything possible to provide market access opportunities and protect foreign investments without much reciprocal benefits to Nigeria or the private sector.
The association’s president said that NOTN must recognise the importance of private sector engagement in development cooperation and negotiations.
He said that in many of the developed climes, decisions on trade were majorly taken under Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) and interests.
Ukaoha said that the role of NOTN should be to provide the platform for the private and public sectors to constructively debate or dialogue on common agenda for the collective good of the citizens.
“NOTN should undertake the responsibility of agenda setting and technical outlays for bilateral and multilateral negotiations.
“This way, stakeholder participation and consultation will be the bedrock of our country’s position at any given,’’ he said.
He called for qualified and professional technical staff to NOTN, particularly trade lawyers who were versed in the interpretation of trade rules, skilled in negotiations and trade data analysis.
Ukaoha said that it was important that NOTN engaged in regular interface with lawmakers at the National Assembly.
“This is necessary so that when they attend their international parliamentary meetings, everyone would be singing from the same `hymn book’ on Nigeria’s position,’’ he said.
Ukaoha advised that Nigeria should remain tactful, technically focused and detailed with a view to accommodate the position of other African countries involved so as to gain their respect.