President Muhammmadu Buhari Monday charged the Presidential Committee for Impact and Readiness Assessment of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, to address risks associated with signing the AFCFTA agreement.
While inaugurating the committee at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Buhari charged members to address issues raised by the nationwide sensitization committee set up to advise government on Nigeria's membership of the AFCFTA
This is as the National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba said that the organized labour had cautioned the country not to be in a hurry to sign the agreement in order not to make the country a dumping ground for finished products.
Wabba had insisted that, "We cannot participate if we are not producing and that is why I think our major issue is good Produced Africa should be able to go round our borders and therefore that will protect our jobs, it will protect our employment opportunities, it will create more employment opportunity, but importantly, it will also create a lot of market."
At the inauguration of the Committee, the Nigeria President had identified creation of the free trade area is a worthy and commendable idea, adding that "the population, resources, geographical spread and other theoretical trade indicators of the continent highlight the tremendous potential that exist if we can crack the various barriers that hinder intra-African trade."
He noted that Nigeria's vision for intra-Africa trade was for the free movement of "made in Africa goods", adding that such "goods and services must have significant African content in terms of raw materials and value addition to the production and service processes.
"Therefore, the Continental Free Trade Area must be packaged and implemented to achieve this vision. This is the only way the majority of Africans will positively benefit from it."
The President identified many years of import dependency as the bane of the country's present predicament
According to him, "For too long, our domestic productive capabilities were neglected in favour of imports. Nigeria was using its hard-earned oil revenues to create jobs offshore instead of developing the manufacturing potential of our very vibrant, young and dynamic population.
"Many of our challenges today, whether relating to security, unemployment or corruption are rooted in the fact that we have not been able to domesticate the production of our most basic requirements. The recent recession, which was as a result of our over dependence on external factors, is a clear case of why Nigerians must now aspire to self-sufficiency
Buhari who stated that the country was now prepared to break away from signing agreement, that will not provide maximum benefits for its citizens, added that " You are to address issues raised and address any challenges arising from the nationwide sensitization programs on the AFCFTA.
The committees inaugurated by the President include the Steering committee and the Support Technical Committee work group.
There was a seven month period of preparation to the event culminating into the committee's inauguration.
It will be recalled that the government had inaugurated a nationwide stakeholder sensitization team to engage them on the implications of signing the AfCFTA
The team's work was to also help government understand the true impact of the agreement on Nigeria and Nigerians, based the existing domestic and regional policies as it relates to trade.
Results of the consultations, show that the stakeholders raised key issues including need to check abuse of rules of origin,Smuggling arising from difficulties in border controls, un-quantified impacts of legacy preferential trade agreements.
He listed the issues to include, abuse of rule of origin, low capacity to conduct international trade," amongst others
Other issues raised include Low capacity and capabilities of local business to conduct international trade, cost of finance, Insufficient energy; and
Transport logistics infrastructure, to mention a few.
The President however, said these issues are being addressed by the ERGP, even as he said government is "determined to break away from the past practice of committing Nigeria to treaties without a definite implementation plan to actualize the expected benefits while mitigating the risks.
"We cannot go back to the days of signing agreements without understanding and planning for the consequences of such actions and our country being the worse off. Your task as members of the AfCFTA Impact and Readiness Assessment Committee is to address the issues raised during the nationwide stakeholder consultations on the AfCFTA.
"You are expected to develop short, medium and long-term measures that will address any challenges arising therefrom."
The Steering committee, headed by Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelama and Chief of Staff to the President , Abba Kyari as co-chairman, is expected to submit its reports in 12 weeks, designing a clear roadmap for Nigeria as it relates to the AfCFTA
Speaking to Vanguard, the NLC President said, "And with our population of over 200 million people and the largest economy in Africa, certainly Nigeria will not stand aloof without keying into this wonderful initiative. And we can't only key in if we are able to strategically look at our interest and also protect them. So, we are here to participate in this process and the NLC has been engaging the issue frontally.
"Labour within the context of Africa under the banner of International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, African Union has provided a lot of information and a lot of strategy how we can also participate. So we will be participating with the whole essence of how Nigeria can effectively maximize this opportunity that has come in.
"We said government should not sign without stakeholders engagement and participation and arising from that engagement, more than 34 organisations including the NLC was formally engaged in the process and were able to make our inputs. What we will be doing now is to collate these inputs and increase our participation in the entire our continental free trade agreement.
"So that is the whole essence of any policy. Any policy that we want to impose on our citizens, we must be able to think through the policy, there should be citizen engagement and above all, our citizens should be able to draw benefits from such policy which is what we did."