Prepares schedule of commitment on trade in services
As Labour involves affiliate member organisations in process
By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
The Acting Chief Trade Negotiator and Director General, Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations, NOTN, Liman Victor Liman, disclosed consulting Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and other public critical stakeholders on the ongoing Africa Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFA, negotiations, ahead of implementation of the AfCFTA, in July 2020.
Liman stated this at the consultative meeting held with both the private and public sector stakeholders for their positions and input on the Schedule of Specific Commitment on Trade in Services, which is currently being negotiated.
In his personal conviction said that critical, strategic stakeholders and operators must drive the process of our negotiations, through constant engagements and consultations, such as this one.
He further explained that NOTN is currently consulting NLC and other critical stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to interrogate, analyse, consider, validate and agree on the final schedule of specific commitment on trade in services that will be finally submitted to the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS for harmonisation.
He added that the harmonised schedule will be transmitted to the AfCFTA Secretariat as a single ECOWAS Schedule of Specific Commitment on Trade in Services.
He said, “The engagement to interrogate the key priority Services sectors continues; and would thereafter culminate into a joint umbrella public and private consultation forum.
“Also, as part of the need for transparency and ownership of the process, private sector stakeholders must be engaged and consulted separately from the public stakeholders. Prior to this engagement earlier today, private sector stakeholders on financial services were equally engaged and consulted yesterday.
“This is not a one-off or standalone process. We shall continue to reach out, engage, and include all critical, relevant state and non state actors in our work. This is because of my personal commitment to ensure that every negotiated position and outcome shall be driven by operators, the Nigerian population that is directly linked to every negotiated impact/outcome.”
According to him the NOTN has commenced consultation with both the public and private financial services sectors, and that on Monday February 17, 2020, there will be private sector consultation on professional and business services. On Tuesday, will be for public sector consultation on professional and business services; on Wednesday private sector consultation on communication services; on Thursday for public sector consultation on communications; then on Friday for tourism and transport together, including both public and private sector stakeholders, which is 21st February 2020.
“Then on Monday 24th February we are going to have all sectoral consultation, which brings together the five key sectors that we have agreed at AfTCTA to initially liberalise and open up. These five key sectors are the financial services sector; professional and business services sector, communication services sector; tourism and transport services sector.
“These are indications with regards to what we want to do at this first stage of liberalisation. He submitted that the five key sectors though have been currently agreed for liberalisation, would not foreclose further liberalisation of other services sectors, over a period of time.”
In his words on the need for constant conversation with stakeholders said, “In the end the private sector operators are going to be the ones to either benefit or bear the negative impact of any negotiated outcome. To this extent it is important for the operators to drive whatever we are doing in this office.”
He also maintained that the essence of these engagements is to ensure that Nigeria is fully prepared to take advantage of the huge opportunities that the AfCFTA presents.
“Key sectors must be ready, regulations, policies, legal and infrastructural space properly aligned for efficiency, productivity, growth, job creation and the welfare of our people.
“So we want to ensure that we engage as fully as we can. We want to ensure that we take on board every position, we want to ensure that we must play by the rule of engagement defined and given to NOTN by the Nigerian public, we want to ensure that whatever we are doing is, that the Nigerian public will take ownership of every outcome, in whatever we are doing in this office. I think this is critical and fundamental for the growth of the economy, for GDP growth, welfare enhancement, productivity, and for job creation.
“Within the main framework Agreement of of the AfCFTA, embedded therein are three protocols, namely, the Protocol on Trade in Goods, Protocol on Trade in Services and the Protocol on the Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes, the last Protocol provides a foundation for settlement of disputes and anchors the AfCFTA on a solid, credible and rule based Regional Free Trade Area.”
However, he said, “You cannot rule out conflicts and disputes among AfCFTA State Parties that are engaged in trade.”
“The AfCFTA came into force on 30th of May, 2019 after having achieved the 22 countries threshold requirement that is embedded as the criteria for the coming into force of the AfCFTA.”
He also made it known and explained that Nigeria is yet to ratify and deposit its instrument of ratification with the African Union, which is being currently worked on.
“In Nigeria ratification is an executive process, you don’t need to go to the legislature for ratification. What we need to do is to send a memo to the Council requesting for the preparation and approval of the instrument of ratification, which is then sent to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to prepare the instrument of ratification and then sent back to the Council for approval and ratification.
“It is at that point that we can ratify and then deposit the instrument of ratification with the depository, the AU in this case.
“Then the second phase of negotiation composed of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), Investment Cooperation as well as Competition Policy. That has not started yet, we are hoping to kick-start and from the AU Note Verbale, on the 16th of March 2020.
“It is important to state clearly at this point, that ratification of AfCFTA will provide the basis for further engagement with phase II negotiations. In order to sit-in the room where the rules, procedures and disciplines on IPR, Competition and Investment are negotiated, we must ratify. Phase II Negotiation is envisaged to be for state parties, these are countries that have signed, ratifified and deposited the instruments of ratification with the depository. Nigeria is currently classified as a Member State and not yet a State Party to the Agreement.”
Meanwhile, Head, Research Department, NLC, Dr Onoho’Omhen Ebhohimhen, at the meeting, said it was a dream come true with the signing of the AfCFTA by Nigeria.
Ebhohimen also said Nigeria needs to upgrade skills of the Nigerian worker to take advantage of the opportunities before the country.
He said, “At the end of it all this is a dream come true for all our people because these are the things we have been taught since the 1960s about having an African trading system.
“The Acting Chief Trade Negotiator/Director General has demonstrated great capacity, competence and intelligence and his appointment needs to be confirmed soonest. This is the second time I am having this experience this year, the first one was in a security summit where I saw Nigerians with great competence and capacity, Victor Liman, the Chief Trade Negotiator/ Director General of the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations has shown excellence and great understanding of the issues, and we need to take full advantage of his competence, skill and intelligence.”
“We as labour, what we have tried to do, is whatever information we get we democratise it and let it go down to all our affiliates. Practically all our affiliates are engaged in this process.
“We do our best to ensure that we integrate them into the discussions that are going on and we hope some of these projects that comes, some other members of our affiliate organisations will attend and make their contributions and also broaden their knowledge base.”