President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday gave reasons again why Nigeria will not be rushed into the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) treaty.
The AfCFTA treaty is one of the flagship initiatives of the African Union Agenda 2063, aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons, investments and a single currency across the continent.
Also, the treaty commits countries to remove tariffs on 90 per cent of goods and liberalise services, while sensitive items, which make up the balance 10 per cent, will be phased out later as tariff-free.
The first phase of the agreement was adopted and signed by the African Union Heads of States and governments at its 10th Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018.
Although Nigeria was a prominent facilitator to the drafting and adoption of the agreement, the country was among the few countries that did not join in signing the final document.
Many Nigerians, including former president Olusegun Obasanjo, expressed concern and disappointment over the federal government's decision on signing the agreement.
Mr Obasanjo described the decision to delay the signing of the agreement as criminal and disappointing, considering Nigeria's status and known leadership role in Africa affairs.
But, the government said its decision to withhold signing the deal was to allow for broader consultation amidst an outcry from trade unions that Nigeria would not benefit much from the deal.
With virtually all 54 member-countries of the AU signing up to the agreement, to signify the readiness of the treaty to come into effect, the Nigerian government is insisting on completing consultations with interest groups, to weigh the impact of the treaty on the country's economy.
At the presentation of the report on the impact of the AfCFTA and Nigeria's readiness for it on Thursday, President Buhari restated his administration's resolve not to rush into any agreement without full and proper consultation with all stakeholders.
"Let me state unequivocally that trade is important for us as a nation and to all nations. Economic progress is what makes the world go around.
"Our position is very simple, we support free trade as long as it is fair and conducted on an equitable basis. The AfCFTA will have both positive and negative effects on us as a nation and on our region.
"As Africa's largest economy and most populous country, we cannot afford to rush into such agreements without full and proper consultation with all stakeholders," Mr Buhari said.
According to the president, with the committee noting that intra-African trade constituted only 14 per cent of the continent's total trade volume, Nigeria's consumption is composed mostly of goods imported from outside Africa.
For AfCFTA to succeed, he said Nigeria and other African countries must develop policies that promote African production, among other benefits.
He said Africa, therefore, needs not only a trade policy, but equally a continental manufacturing agenda.
Nigeria's vision for intra-African trade, he said, is for the free movement of "made-in-Africa goods" - that is, goods and services made locally with dominant African content in terms of raw materials and value addition.
Mr Buhari said if Nigeria allows unbridled imports to continue, it will dominate the country's trade, with coastal importing nations having better prospects of prospering, while landlocked nations will continue to suffer and depend on aid.
He reiterated his view that many of the challenges Nigeria was facing today on security, economy and corruption, were rooted in the country's inability, over the years, to domesticate the production of the most basic requirements and create jobs for our very vibrant, young and dynamic population.
Consequently, he said his administration will, henceforth, ensure the country's negotiated agreements created business opportunities for Africa's manufacturers, service providers and innovators.
On the AfCFTA treaty, he said Nigeria will aspire to, not only create wealth for investors, but also jobs and prosperity for the nation's vibrant and hardworking citizens, since the benefits of economic growth must be prosperity for the masses.
He expressed confidence that the committee's report will form part of the consideration by government for its decision on the next steps on the AfCFTA and the broader trade integration subjects.