Nigeria’s failure to sign the free trade pact with some other African countries, last week, is indeed an indirect denial of a new market explosion and job creation as espoused by experts. SUNDAY OJEME reports
Since the debate over last week’s endorsement of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) gathered momentum, some stakeholders in Nigerian government and the economy appear to have been looking at the issue from a single perspective, which is the fact that Nigeria currently lacks the infrastructure and wherewithal to compete with some of the participants.
In spite of this widely accepted decision hugely put forward by labour, trade bodies as well as the organised private sector, representatives of the countries that endorsed the agreement, however, believe it is one of the best things to have happened to the African continent in a long while.
Report has it that the AfCFTA is an agreement cast in the mold of the European Union’s version and also gives birth to the world’s largest free trade area since the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which was formed in 1995.
Rather than be sober over the failure of successive government to build infrastructure and encourage entrepreneurship in the country over the years, the purveyors of the anti-free trade arrangement are rather happy over President Mahammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign an agreement that would have further provided a means of livelihood for millions of idle and already engaged Nigerians.
While they see it as a disadvantage to the country, Africa’s renowned investment experts believe otherwise, as the project is considered an economic trigger that will benefit all and sundry and further cement the relationship among the countries involved.
Econet Group Chairman, Strive Masiyiwa, he described the CFTA as an avenue to unleash a market of 1.2 billion people with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $3 trillion (bigger than Russia, and almost equal to India).
“This deal has involved 10 years of hard negotiations by trade and finance ministers from every African country. What a privilege to see African leaders put pen to paper on this. There are 29 Heads of State and Government here,” he said.
“For entrepreneurs this deal means we are a step closer to one African market. We can now build really big continental companies. It will mean more jobs, as it will help draw investment. It will mean the type of prosperity we see in the countries of Asia.
“Don’t allow the fearful to do what they always do…spread their fear to you. We have to make this work. Talk about it. Take charge. Lead,” he said.
The same excitement cut across all members of the over 40 countries that put pen on paper endorsing what the two biggest economies in Africa, Nigeria and South Africa, shied away from.
However, in defending its position against the Federal Government signing the agreement because of the likely negative impact on private businesses and the country’s economy, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) said the probable outcome of the policy if given life may have a crippling effect on local businesses and attendant effects on jobs.
“We have no doubt this policy initiative will spell the death knell of the Nigerian economy.” the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said.
He expressed concern that the agreement, which is aimed at liberating the African economy by creating a free trade area for all 55-member states of the African Union (AU) may end up doing more harm than good because of the sensitivity of the policy and its possible negative impact on the country’s economy and privately owned industries.
On his part, a former Director General of Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce Industries Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMMA), Dr John Isemede, believes Nigeria will not really gain from the arrangement, stressing that
Nigeria’s trade agreements had even worked to her disadvantage due to poor export capacity in non-oil and low industrial capacity.
“There is a need to review trade agreements and policies at this time because most of the developed countries we see today grew by closing down their borders for a while “ he said.
“Take a look at AGOA for instance, for 10 years, only very few exporters have been able to export under the platform due to poor information and lack of proper documentation.
“We have rice mills and farms that are barely functioning, except for the new intervention of the UNIDO and Bank of Industry to empower farmers and this apparently is not enough.
He advised the Federal Government to look at the critical details involved in the agreement, adding that there must be a balance between import and export for a country like Nigeria to benefit from any trade agreements.
However, as much as those kicking against the arrangement have expressed their opinions, the enormity of the country’s wrong decision in this regard was highlighted by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who criticised President Buhari for not endorsing the agreement.
He said, “That President Buhari didn’t sign the free trade agreement in Kigali is disappointing; I hope he signs it before it is too late.
“Egypt started the discussion on the formation of the Organisation of African Unity but didn’t conclude it and Nigeria took over. Nigeria was also central to the discussion of the free trade agreement, but I am surprised that the country withdrew from signing.”
As the 44 countries that endorsed the arrangement move a step further in their economic development, it is believed that the Nigerian government would urgently put the necessary mechanism in place and follow up the process by joining its colleagues and if possible, take the leadership role in the new dream for the continent.
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