By Victoria Ojeme
The National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) has called for an urgent drafting of a Nigerian national trade policy document to harmonised all trade relations with neighboring and third-party countries.
This is coming as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) goes into force on January 1, 2021. Following years of preparation, and a pandemic postponement from its original start date in mid-2019, the world will welcome the largest free trade area since the development of the World Trade Organization, by number of participating countries.
The NANTS President, Dr Ken Ukaoha, in a statement on Nigeria’s “negotiations scorecard and agenda-setting for 2021” said the prolonged absence of trade and Investment related policies despite the long cry on the subjects has not helped in Nigeria’s positioning and the provision of negotiation compass.
Ukaoha said while heading to the AfCFTA implementation, it is important to review the nation’s 2020 trade environment with particular emphasis on negotiation process and draw lessons that would place Nigeria’s trade and economic agenda on the required platform for progress in 2021.
“In the light of the foregoing, NANTS therefore presents as follows: Revisiting and rejigging the faulty Negotiation process: Government must be ready to accept that there are gaps and pitfalls (possible mistakes) created along the line of our negotiations – technically, procedurally and process-wise.
“For instance, there is the absence of a report-back mechanism within Nigeria’s AfCFTA negotiations process. Even amidst claims of consultation held (which may not be consultative enough), the tyre of the process of engendering National positions to the negotiation table is faulty, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in inflating it for speed and effectiveness, alongside the report back process. The contents and outcomes of negotiations cannot be handled in an opaque manner.
“It is therefore sad to note that many Nigerians are not aware of the contents of what are being negotiated under the AfCFTA, and this is an agreement that has implications on lives and livelihoods. The need to review and rejig both the platform and mode of negotiation is very key for the stability and capacity of Nigeria to benefit from Global trade. NANTS therefore calls on the Federal Government, and particularly, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investments to revisit and reawaken the possible adoption of the model used for the Nigeria-EU-EPA negotiations so as to integrate all actors and stakeholders in the negotiation process.
“Reviewing and expanding access to the AfCFTA’s DSM: With particular reference to the AfCFTA and the Dispute Settlement Provisions, NANTS notes with dissatisfaction that while the AfCFTA in Art 20 provides for DSM, and Art 5B provides that RECs are the building blocks to the AfCFTA (which is a direct recognition of community citizens), the DSM provisions in Art 21 however limit access to the very important nexus of the trade agreement to Member States only as parties to the Agreement (Art 1: (q) of the interpretation clause).
“From ugly incidences of intimidations, harassments, xenophobic attacks, locking of shops/business premises and investments experienced by Nigerian traders in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, etc; NANTS position is that in cases where such distortions apply, the DSM should make provisions for such businesses to access the body and seek remedy without waiting for the intervention of Member State. Alternatively, the Arbitration Tribunals in 8 RECs recognized by AfCFTA could be transformed and/or expanded with DSM capacity to handle inevitable disputes. We therefore call on Nigerian Government to take the leadership in promoting this idea for integration in the DSM.
“Recognition of Nigerian traders as Ambassadors of the AfCFTA: As the AfCFTA implementation commence, Government should begin the approach of recognising that Nigerian traders are trade Ambassadors as far as the AfCFTA is concerned. Given that these traders are located in all countries in Africa, NANTS recommends that a subtle policy should be devised to instil in the traders the importance of shouldering and exhibiting made in Nigeria goods in their shelves anywhere they are in the continent and beyond. Such practice can be propagated by the FMITI and be facilitated by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and the Nigeria Customs Service among other trade facilitating agencies.
“Urgent need for a trade Policy for Nigeria: The prolonged absence of trade and Investment related policies despite the long hue and cry on the subject has not helped in Nigeria’s positioning and the provision of negotiation compass for navigating the negotiations in terms of vision to realizing clear objectives. It is almost unpardonable that the year 2020 is closing up again without a trade policy document for Nigeria.
“We boldly recall a blunder almost committed when the Nigeria Office for Trade Negotiation (NOTN) launched what was almost erroneously concluded by many as trade policy document for Nigeria. Such move may be unconnected with the long and unnecessary delay in preparing and releasing a trade document as master plan for the entire trade sector ecosystem.
“The absence of a trade policy may further remain connected with our staccato kind of management of trade relationship with our neighbours as well as the subject of trade facilitation with third party countries. NANTS therefore again and again appeals to the Nigerian Government to wake up to realities and act away from the stagnant rocking chair of motion without movement which rather stifles the future of economic benefits from trade.
“Reactivating the moribund ENFP: The need to revisit and address the causes of the moribund nature of the Enlarged National Focal Point on Multilateral Trade (ENFP) has become more than ever an imperative action.
“Preparing for UK-Nigeria Trade: The United Kingdom (UK) has just recently succeeded in securing a Trade Agreement with the EU courtesy of the over 5 years Brexit negotiations.
“It is evident that as the most populous market in Africa, Nigeria’s hand would soon be sought in marriage by the UK. As 2021 comes up, NANTS is calling on the Government of Nigeria to start rehearsals preparatory to the foreseen union so that the nation does not appear at the ‘matrimonial altar of trade’ with UK less happy and unprepared.
“Resurrecting the EU-EPA: We recall that the Economic Partnership Agreement between European Union and ECOWAS (EU-ECOWAS EPA) has been in the cooler for close to a decade with ‘no edible fruits’ to show. The comatose status has resulted in the existence of up to 4 different trade regimes in ECOWAS at present. These regimes include: Cote d’Ivoire interim EPA, Ghana Interim EPA, EBA for 11 LDCs, and Nigeria’s
“NANTS believes that there is no better time to relook the EPAs than now when both parties have fought and become weary of unnecessary battles that may delay positive impacts of partnership on their economies. With all eyes opened and relaxed from battles, we believe that more development-oriented approaches, compelling projections and beneficial demands can be mutually secured.
“Providing Monitoring mechanism for the AfCFTA: We appeal to the Government to set up a National Monitoring Mechanism for effective monitoring of the implementation of the AfCFTA as it comes on stream. Such team should be all-encompassing and must deal with (i) identifying the gaps in implementation from various Agencies and actors (ii) compiling results, (iii) evaluating outcomes using a quantitative approach, (iv) juxtaposing costs with benefits (v) mounting surveillance on other countries, (vi) articulating best practices (vii) recommending further actions for amelioration of impacts or improvement of benefits, etc.
“Preparing for revised CET: With the 5-years experimentation period of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) expiring by 2020, it is expected that a full blown CET should be on the tarmac preparatory for the take-off of a turbulent-free instrument of trade between the region and third parties.
“Addressing the Illegality around NOTN: We call on Government to consider and act on the importance of specifying relationship and task sharing and/or coordination between the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiation (NOTN) and the AfCFTA NAC for effectiveness. Over and above this is the subject of legal recognition of the bodies in question. NANTS is amazed that a body such as NOTN is up and running with an office and employed staff without a legal instrument backing it. This is a sad development, and indeed makes a caricature of the Executive arm of Government, and ridicules our legislative arm, while also mocking our judicial system that a ‘purported’ body has office and numerous employees paid with tax payers funds and through the national budgets and yet NOT established by or dictated by the radar of the law. We therefore call on relevant arms of Government to act fast and wipe away this shame from our faces.
“Learning from the Border Closure: We commend Government for listening to the voice of wisdom and reopening the land borders preparatory for the AfCFTA implementation which it signed onto. As the euphoria of reactivated business activities reverberate, NANTS wishes to caution her members and indeed all business actors and cross border business operators to imbibe a new lifestyle of playing to the rules and avoid getting involved in all the negative activities that led to the closure of the borders.
In this regard, we specifically call traders, transporters, manufacturers, farmers as well as the travel public to avoid compromising the border officials and luring them to corrupt practices that deface the possible benefits of the border closure. In particular, every actor must ensure proper documentation and honest manifest and declaration of goods to avoid unnecessary delays and unjustifiable requests from border officials.
NANTS equally and perhaps more importantly call on the Federal Government to make public the full report/documentation of all the causes, effects, actions taken, lessons learnt, list of actors reprimanded, costs and benefits of the closure, including quantitative analysis of other perceived impacts of the border closure. This would serve as a critical reference material in the event of any future and/or possible manifestation or re-occurrence of actions that led to the closure.
More so, a documentation of goods originally stranded at the borders since the closure, the contents/classifications, and their owners as well as the process of release to their owners is imperative so as to avoid unnecessary legal actions and also promote/encourage use of data for border policy making. In addition, Government must consider any means of compensation for all genuine traders whose goods were stranded at the borders since the closure so as to avoid punishing such traders alongside smugglers and criminal elements.
“In the same vein, we call on Government to propel ECOWAS to action by ensuring that all trade and border related laws and policies, including the Inter-State Road Transit Protocol, the Brown Card as well as policies such as the Rice Offensive are implemented to the letter by all the 15 Member States as compliance would trigger improvement in the domestic economies and respect to all integration process. Essentially, the Nigerian Government should ensure that the tripartite Agreement between her, Niger Republic and Benin Republic, arising from the border closure is fully consummated and implemented despite the reopening of the border. Importantly, the destruction of warehouses used by smugglers along the corridors and buffer zones is sacrosanct and must be treated with despatch to avoid reoccurrence of illicit activities that led to the closure.
“Guaranteeing security of Nigerian Traders in the Diaspora: The year 2020 presented a tough space for Nigerian traders in the diaspora hit by Covid-19 which not only crippled a better part of their time and investments, but also on the other front, flashed attacks by countries like Ghana where Authorities continuously intimidated, harassed and stifled their businesses to the point that shops were under lock and key even up to the present moment.
“NANTS commends the attention given by Nigerian Government to her citizens in Ghana over this subject. However, although the calm and carrot diplomatic disposition appears to have taken a much longer route to solution, it is expected that Government would in 2021 apply a ‘stronger stick diplomacy’ particularly given that Ghana’s election which was alluded as reason for soft approach is now over. Similarly, Nigeria must equally wake up to invent better trade policies that could protect and also advance reciprocal actions to countries that attack her citizens’ investment.
“Present an evaluation of impact of SMEs related Palliatives: While we commend the noble development oriented intentions behind the creation of facilities such as Market Money, Trade Moni, Farmer Moni, SME Survival Fund, the CBN-NIRSAL Covid-19 funds, etc; we strongly call on Government to institute a possible forensic audit to investigate the funding in terms of identifying and itemizing the beneficiaries, documenting the monitoring process, overall impacts on businesses, productivity and the economy, articulating the repayment processes and status, identifying the gaps, challenges and success stories, and publishing same.
“The report should be published and made public and would help in providing lessons, exposing all ills in the processes and properly situating future funding templates approaches for the benefit of the society.
“The Sordid state of our Ports Infrastructure: As the nation kick-starts the implementation of the AfCFTA, the sorry state of the ports should receive urgent attention. Specifically, the near absence of effective scanning machines, CCTV and other ports related technologies coupled with the poor moral commitment of some trade facilitating agencies constitute a serious weakling and/or peril on the capacity of Nigeria to benefit from the continental trade arrangement.”