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We must handle ACFTA with care

A MAJOR economic diplomacy somersault by the Federal Government occurred last week when President Muhammadu Buhari cancelled his planned trip to Kigali, Rwanda, for the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), already approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC. The agreement facilitates free trade among all the signatory countries.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had said Buhari cancelled the trip in order “to allow more time for inputs from Nigerian stakeholders.”

We have no axe to grind with the Federal Government’s decision to hold back for now until we are sure that our national economic interests would not be mortgaged in appending our signature to the ACFTA. South Africa, our economic rivals on the continent, also refrained from signing it, possibly to protect its own interests. Every country reserves the right to examine any international trade pact carefully before deciding to sign or not.

Our main grouse is the fact that the Federal Government had already approved our full participation, and our President was already primed to attend before we suddenly saw the traps. We should have consulted thoroughly during the planning stages before deciding. If we had been thorough in our preparations, we would have saved ourselves the embarrassment of pulling back at the last minute.

The impulse to sign every international instrument without proper scrutiny for our national interest has lured us into so many pacts which we have failed to implement. It is common knowledge that similar agreements such as the World Trade Organisation, WTO, had helped bring Nigeria’s manufacturing economy to its knees, escalating unemployment in the country.

While we acknowledge the need for Nigeria’s products to take advantage of a common and larger African market, it is foolhardy to base such opportunity on a presumed Africanness of the continental market. For sure, all markets in Africa are dominated by Euro-American and Asian products which are by far more competitive than Nigeria’s. The country’s policy executives should have known this unless they are serving other interests.

Should Nigeria be willing to go into further discussions on the ACFTA, we advise full consultations with the private sector and other relevant stakeholders. Also, a clause on continental shield of protectionism against advanced economies in respect of locally manufactured goods should be integrated in the agreement. Nigeria’s ambition to re-industrialise will suffer greatly from dumping if we sign this pact blindly because some African countries with bilateral ties to the developed economies of the EU and Asia can be used to torpedo our efforts at self-reliance.

Nigeria can still drive the process of a renegotiated ACFTA, but we must first ensure it will give our products a healthy access to the African market. Otherwise, no deal.



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