The European Union (EU) and ECOWAS Commission have urged the managers of the Nigerian economy to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to fast-track its quest for economic diversification and regional integration.
The Head of Trade and Economic Section, EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Filippo Amato, gave the charge during the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, Stakeholders forum on EU-ECOWAS Economic Partnership Agreement in Lagos recently.
According to him, signing the EPA would accelerate Nigeria's industrial development, discard EU tariffs on Nigerian exports; protect domestic industries, agricultural and consumer products.
"All the goods that Nigeria can produce are excluded from the list to protect your industries and the goods to be imported are capital goods, machinery and inputs that are useful for the industrial sector. All West African exports will gradually reduce duties on 75 per cent of EU imports over a long transition period of 20 years," he said.
He stressed that manufacturers would also benefit from lower input prices under the agreement, adding that EPA would enhance cooperation on issues such as standards, trading, agriculture, investment and custom cooperation.
Also speaking at the event, the ECOWAS Commissioner, Trade, Customs and Free Movement, LaoualiChaibou, said the overall objective of the stakeholders forum was to sensitise key stakeholders on the content of the EPA, in order to better understand and disseminate factual information.
He said the advantages offered by the EPA tend to make the West Africa region the production center for export to Europe, pointing out that the integration of ECOWAS and Nigeria in the global value chains involves the ability for Nigeria to attract investments from all walks of life either to transform local raw materials or to transform semi-finished products, saying that the EPA is one of the instruments to achieve this.
"The ECOWAS commission remains committed to building West Africa's capacity on the EPA. We believe that the different stakeholders gathered here have a critical role to play in this process," he said.
The president, LCCI, Nike Akande, said the chamber has followed the debate on the EPA, maintaining that as members of the organised private sector (OPS), it deemed it fit to provide a platform where all stakeholders could meet and discuss the issues.
"There are arguments for and against Nigeria's endorsement of the EPA, but we believe we can find a middle ground. In international trade, competitiveness is paramount for any country to get a fair deal. We would therefore continue to stress the imperative of an enabling environment to deepen the competitiveness of firms in Nigeria," she said.
Meanwhile, the national president, NACCIMA, IyalodeAlaba Lawson, said as a country in the process of diversifying its economy, protectionism may hamper Nigeria's quest to achieve a sustainable economy, stressing that at the same time, without adequate room to grow, certain sectors of the economy may be scuttled by global competition before they even get a chance to develop.
She said the European Union Partnership Agreement (EPA) offers a means of achieving Nigeria's goal of diversification by shifting Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) groups of States which Nigeria can benefit from, but however stated that the challenges facing the real sector such as poor infrastructure, high interest rates and a devalued currency, make it difficult for the real sector to take full advantage of the EPA.
"This being said, the Nigerian economy stands a chance of truly benefiting from the agreement if the right measures are put in place first, as output from many sectors will be able to compete with imports from the EU. Consequently, we advocate that the EPA be put on hold until the infrastructure deficit challenge is properly addressed," she advised.