By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
BARELY after three days the Federal Executive Council, FEC, gave President Muhammadu Buhari the approval to join other African countries to sign the Agreement Framework for the establishment of African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, President Buhari Saturday withdraw from the meeting which is to hold on Wednesday in Kigali, Rwanda.
Buhari was billed to append his signature to the deal on behalf of Nigeria during an African leaders’ summit in Kigali, Rwanda in March 21.
The Federal Government had explained that signing the agreement will expand market access for Nigeria’s exporters of goods and services spur growth and boost job creation.
Besides, the government believes that the agreement will eliminate barriers against Nigeria’s products and provide a Dispute Settlement Mechanism for stopping the hostile and discriminatory treatment directed against Nigerian natural and corporate business persons in other African countries.
Recall that the National President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba had in a statement last week said that signing the agreement was “extremely dangerous and radioactive neo-liberal policy initiative being driven by the Ministry of Trade and Investment that seeks to open our seaports, airports and other businesses to unbridled foreign interference never before witnessed in the history of the country.
“This policy initiative, for instance, will make it possible for a foreign airline to directly do local scheduled flights without employing Nigerians.
Owing to the sensitivity of this policy or its possible fall-outs on our economy, those driving it were directed to consult the Nigerian local business community and organised labour.”
Stressing that the organised labour was not consulted when government took the decision to be part of the free trade agreement, Wabba said that based on information available to him, the relevant business community has not been consulted.
He said “The drivers of this policy initiative, without consulting the relevant stake holders for possible impact assessment, have perfected a document for the signature of President Muhammadu Buhari at Kigali on the 21 of March.
“We at the Nigeria Labour Congress are shocked by the sheer impunity or blatant lack of consultation in the process that has led to this.
“We are more worried by the probable outcome of this policy initiative if it is given life because of its crippling effect on the local businesses and attendant effects on jobs.
“We find it confounding that at a time nations, including the United States are resorting to protectionism in defence of their local businesses and protection of jobs, we have the audacity to want to fling open our doors, windows and roof tops.
“We have no doubt this policy initiative will spell the death knell of the Nigerian economy. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement rather than unite Africa, will only divide it the more; rather than enrich Africa will only pauperise it the more.”
But briefing State House correspondents after the weekly FEC meeting presided over by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, said that Nigeria was even bidding to host the Headquarters/Secretariat of the AfCFTA.
Enelamah disclosed though that his Foreign Affairs counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, had been mandated to widen consultations with stakeholders, including National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).
According to him, “The CFTA is the first step in the implementation of African Union’s Agenda 2063, for an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, and when in force, the CFTA shall be the largest Free Trade Area (FTA) in the global economy, by number.
“Establish rules-based trade governance in intra-African trade to invoke trade remedies, such as safeguards, anti-dumping, and countervailing duties against unfair trade practices, including dumping, trans-shipment of concealed origin of products;
“Support the industrial policy of Nigeria through the negotiated and agreed “Exclusion and Sensitive category lists” to provide space for Nigeria’s infant industries;
“Improve competitiveness, the enabling environment for business, consolidate and expand Nigeria’s position as the number one economy in Africa.
“Stimulate, specifically, an estimated 8.18 percent increase in Nigeria’s total exports, with a small structural shift in Nigeria’s economy towards manufacturing and services. This is expected to lead to a total increase in Nigerian economic welfare by 0.62% – equivalent to around US$2.9 billion in 2018 terms. Changes would result from tariff reduction, ease of doing business and, trade facilitation.
“Provide a platform for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) integration into the regional economy and accelerate women’s empowerment.
“Provide an expanded platform for Nigerian manufacturers and service providers for connection to regional and continental value chains.”
However, President Buhari, succumbed to pressure from the private sector and the labour movement and cancelled attending the summit for the signing of Agreement framework.
As at the time of filing this report there was no official communication from the presidency on the reason for the cancellation.