Lagos — There is unanimity in Nigeria on the immense benefits of promoting intra-African trade for development, job creation and poverty reduction, Nigeria's Vice President, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo, on Friday.
In a keynote at the 2018 Africa Trade Forum in Lagos, Mr. Osinbajo, whose country is yet to sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), said Nigeria was not against the pact but was continuing to consult all stakeholders to ensure concerns and challenges are addressed, ostensibly before the country can put pen to paper.
"I can tell you that there is virtual unanimity from those against and those for the AfCFTA on the benefits of intra-African trade for development, poverty reduction and job creation," he told delegates attending the two-day forum.
The Vice President added: "Across the board all stakeholders point to the issues where the policymakers are required to act in coordination regionally in dealing for example with issues like agreement on rules of origin which is critical to avoid abuse, that third parties cannot benefit from an agreement their government has not signed, trade finance and related subjects."
"Although most stakeholders support the agreement, there are concerns about impact especially on the local markets and the need to protect the agreement from abuse by third parties. This is an opportunity for us to get this right and implement the agreement correctly."
He lauded the AfCFTA as 'the most significant Pan African agreement in this generation that we have yet signed as the continent'.
"It's impact on commerce and practically everything else will arguably be most profound," Mr. Osinbajo said as he assured delegates that though Nigeria is yet to sign the AfCFTA, it has been upping its consultation with major stakeholders on the benefits of the agreement.
The consultation process, he said, remains diligent, rigorous and transparent and was yielding positive results.
"Since its establishment, the pace of outreach to improve on it, to build capacity and to sharpen expertise has accelerated. Trade negotiations have done their job and we now enter the more crucial business of negotiating the details of tariff offers and what safeguards to put in place and on which goods and the specifics for the commitments for trade and services," the Vice President said.
He said it was now time for 'policymakers and stakeholders with the support of regional institutions across the continent to improve on the standard of the stakes in play'.
"Nigeria as Africa's biggest market is most likely to benefit the most or lose the most from the AfCFTA," the Vice President said in emphasizing the importance of a rigorous consultation process ahead of the country's final decision on the pact.
Led by business mogul, Aliko Dangote, Nigeria's business and heavy industry were unanimous that it's a question of when the country signs, not if Nigeria will sign the AfCFTA.
Nigerian business agrees the nation stands to benefit most from the AfCFTA. They said they are ready to work with government and regional economic institutions to design the process, adding agreement on rules of origin is critical for signing.
For his part Dangote said consultations being carried out by the government are crucial to ensure all concerns are addressed.
"Nigeria did not rush to sign the agreement because there are consequences and Nigeria has some big industries. When Nigeria signs the agreement, it will be the biggest beneficiary because it has the largest heavy industries."
He continued: "Industrialisation brings in a lot of wealth and prosperity. Nigeria is not against the ACFTA but we are only saying let us do things right with a solid foundation. The regional markets need to work to prevent foreign goods from invading our market."
He said his companies believe in intra-African trade.
"My concern is that the regional markets are not working. If we have working regional markets and bodies, we will benefit from the AfCFTA. If the foundation is right, we and Nigeria will benefit but we have to go back to the basics."
Africa Trade Forum 2018 is being held under the theme; "AfCTA Ratification and implementation: A Game Changer for African Economies" and drew participants from across the continent, including member States, the Vice President of Rockefeller Foundation, Christine Heenan; Nigeria's Minister of Trade, Industry and Development, Okechukwu Enelamah; Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe; African Union Commission Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Albert Muchanga; Managing Director, Africa Regional Office, Rockefeller Foundation, Mamadou Biteye; and Chairman of Nigeria's Federal Inland Revenue Service, Babatunde Fowler.