Abuja — When it fully takes off, the newly-approved Nigeria Office for Trade Negotiation (NOTN) is to advise the federal government on how best to go about resolving the contentious Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah has said.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved the establishment of NOTN to act as the pivot for the negotiation of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements between Nigeria and other countries and agencies.
The EPA, which is a response to continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the European Union (EU) are incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) to rules, is a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), but has been mired in controversy.
In an interview in Abuja, Enelamah, who described the EPA as "situated in the 19th century," stated that one of the areas the federal government expected advice from the NOTN and technical experts was on how to resolve the EPA impasse.
"One of the areas we expect to get advice from the Nigerian Office on Trade Negotiation/technical experts is on how to resolve the EPA challenge. There is a challenge and the reason why there is a challenge is we negotiated with other countries, and they did not necessarily engage Nigeria, which they should have given 60 per cent of the ECOWAS market.
"We have looked at the agreement and we believe that the agreements are situated in the 19th century and we are now in the 21st century.
" You know if somebody is trying to plan with you based on where you are today when you are planning to move somewhere else, it will be wise to look ahead and make sure that the agreement anticipates where you are going, the problem with the EPA is that it does not anticipate where we want to be as an industrial economy.
"It sort of assumes we bring the raw materials in, we send them to Europe and it says if you bring them in, we will give you access to our market. But then, you will have to give them access to the finished goods to come back. That was the trade of the colonial era and the 20th century," he said.
Enelamah noted that NOTN would be set up in the next few weeks, adding the whole idea was that it would be led by a chief negotiator and trade advisor.
"We have a candidate already and then we would also have experts on trade from this ministry and other ministries that would advise the country and the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) on trade.
"Basically, some of the areas we will be looking at, we are looking ahead, and we think that the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), sorting out our relationship with ECOWAS and Europe with the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA); looking at some of the agreements we've entered into already like CET and ETLS.
"We would also be looking at the relationship with Europe in terms of Brexit and all those things. We will also be looking at some of the so-called free trade agreements, or strategic trade agreements to help to create value chains, global value chains, regional value chains.
"What that means essentially is that you are entering into agreements with other countries on how you add value to products that come to them; the way you are part of the total picture for producing finished goods," Enelamah said.