By Franklin Ocheneyi
THERE is a strong indication that the proposed ONE AFRICAN MARKET, christened Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has divided the Organised Private Sector (OPS) in Nigeria.
The OPS bodies in the country comprises Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA); Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA) and Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, NASME including Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists, NASSI.
Recent development proves that the once strong united body at influencing government economic policies through its advocacies is now falling apart and Industry watchers are wondering who the government will listen to. Should President Muhammadu Buhari bow to the pressures to sign the AfCTA treaty now or tarry until some months, perhaps even years to see the workability of the agreement among countries that have endorsed the treaty?
At a time when Mr. President said he was still bidding his time to consult business leaders before he sign –on the country to the AfCFTA regime, one of the OPS body –NACCIMA advised the Federal Government to go ahead and sign the AfCFTA treaty.
National President, NACCIMA, Iyalode Alaba Lawson, at a press briefing in Lagos, on Monday July 23, said NACCIMA’s position is that our dear country should sign the AfCFTA.
“We as a nation have been closely and long involved with the vision of an African Free Trade Area right from the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU.
The Big Picture
“Nigeria must be part of the AFCTA for numerous reasons which include the fact that it is a platform for our SMEs to be integrated into the regional economy and a means of acceleration of women’s trade and economic empowerment,” she said.
She, however, stated that the association counsels that in order to take full advantage of the AfCFTA, government needs to intensify current efforts to eradicate non-tariff and regulatory barriers to international trade such as border delays, burdensome customs and inspection procedures, as well as ensure that multiple licensing and taxes are eliminated, saying that a situation where it is easier to import than to export will defeat the purpose of signing the AfCFTA.
“While we continue to address the issues around the AfCFTA, and work on a strategy for implementation to tackle the problems, we should sign the Agreement now and set up an all-embracing implementation Committee in readiness for when it will finally take off,” she said
Chairman, NACCIMA Standing Committee on AfCFTA, Jani Ibrahim said Nigeria has no other continent than the Africa continent and therefore it cannot be a stand aside in the face of the transformations that are sweeping across the continent.
“It must not only cash in and ensure most things if not everything are in her favour.
Nigeria’s endorsement of the agreement must however take on all the concerns of the stakeholders’ seriously and attend to them, swiftly,” he added.
While NACCIMA wants government to ratify the trade deal without delay, other members of the OPS, said ‘its view doesn’t represent the views of the Organized Private Sector of Nigeria.”
Dr. Frank Jacobs, MAN President argued that an insignificant number of non-real sector operators in the private sector, despite not being at home with the technicalities of a trade agreement, are tactfully recommending that Mr. President signed the agreement under the camouflage that majority of Nigerians and the OPS agrees with their position.
The pronouncement of this group of actors is not representative of OPS position on AfCFTA.
He cited the challenges in the implementation of the Common External Tariff (CET) and said that Mr. President “Buhari” should not sign the AfCFTA agreement until the outcome of a credible study so indicate, but graciously allow the nation’s team to resume participation in the negotiation processes only to ensure that the country is abreast of developments.
Jacobs noted that the Presidents of the OPS at its meeting on Tuesday affirmed that Nigeria should be circumspect on the decision to sign the AfCFTA, but await the outcome of a credible study that should guide its negotiations.
To this end, MAN said it has since commissioned a study and expects to have the report by August because, as he puts it, “MAN said its concerns are yet to be addressed, while pointing out that the recently conducted and launched study by the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN), has still not addressed the glaring lapses.
Jacobs said it is worrisome to observe that the study failed to address the concerns of manufacturers, stressing that the outcome of the NOTN sponsored independent study on the potential benefits of AfCFTA on Nigeria, fell short of standards and lacked the much-needed information required to take an informed decision.
“Should President Muhammadu Buhari bow to the pressures to sign the AfCTA treaty now or tarry until some months, perhaps even years to see the workability of the agreement among countries that have endorsed the treaty?”
One Voice against 4
Segun Ajayi-Kadir, Director –General, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) added: “I think it is unfair for any private sector organisation to play on the intelligence of Nigerians and to try to confuse government by diluting the resolute position that the Organised Private Sector (OPS) in Nigeria has taken on the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“We are five of us in the OPS Nigeria (MAN, NECA, NASME, NASSI and NACCIMA) and one of us is taking a unilateral decision to advise government to sign it. This is unfortunate and it is not in line with the agreement that established OPS many years ago.
“We had a committee within NACCIMA that review some policies but up till now I am at a loss as to what document they looked at that informed their decision to advise Government to sign it. At that meeting, from my recollection, NACCIMA never came forward to say that they are in support of fore- signing the AfCFTA straight away.
Why the Haste to Sign?
“Mind you, MAN is not saying that government should not sign it at all and forever. What we are saying is that as we speak today there is no objective basis for asking the President to sign. And so, for NACCIMA asking government to go and sign, they didn’t say they are satisfied with the Rules of Origin, because as we speak, it doesn’t exist. They are not saying the market access is okay for Nigeria, the contravening measures, and disputes settlement mechanism, non-tariff and technical barriers provisions, among other protocols and annexure. So, why do you sign up-front, why the haste?” he said.
He urged the government to exercise restraint in signing the agreement for now until the outcome of a credible study that should guide our negotiations, saying “Trade is war in different forms, it is not friendly. MAN has since commissioned a study and we expect to have the report about a month from now.
“We are already making advancement in the economic front and we shouldn’t allow any shady agreement to push us back. For instance, anything that comes into this country, how will it impact on the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan, NIRP, and the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan, EGRP?