By Patience Danjuma
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday inaugurated the Presidential Committee for Impact and Readiness Assessment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA).
The inauguration came one week after Buhari was criticized by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for refusing to sign the continental free trade agreement.
While speaking at the Babacar Ndiaye lecture series in Bali, Indonesia last week, Obasanjo said, “…we will soon have a president who will be able to sign because the president that is there now, his hands are too weak to sign.”
But at an event at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Monday, Buhari said Nigeria would not sign any treaty without assessing its impact on the lives of its citizens.
The president said Nigeria would henceforth take its time to break away from the past practice, where treaties were signed without making the needed positive gains for the country.
The Presidential Committee has the Minister of Industry as its Chairman, with the Chief of Staff to the President as Co-Chairman.
Buhari said, “We are determined to break away from the past practice of committing Nigeria to treaties without a definite implementation plan to actualise the expected benefit 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 worst for it.
“Few months ago I directed a nationwide stakeholders’ engagement on the Africa Free Trade Continental Area Agreement to understand the true impact of this agreement on Nigeria and Nigerians, considering the existing domestic and regional policies as it relates to trade.’’
The president observed that from the consultation, the key issues raised by stakeholders were abuse of rules of origin, smuggling arising from difficulties in border controls and unqualified impact of legacy preferential trade agreements.
According to him, other issues raised include low capacity and capability of local businesses to conduct international trade, costly finance, and insufficient energy and transport logistics infrastructure.
He, however, revealed that the nation’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan would address these issues.
Buhari, therefore, charged the committee to concentrate on the issues raised during the nationwide consultations in order to find lasting solutions to them.
“Your task as members of the Impact and Readiness Assessment of the African Continental Free Trade Area Committee is to address the issues raised during the stakeholders’ consultations on the Africa Continental free trade Agreement.
“You are expected to develop short, medium and long-term measures that will address any challenges arising therefrom,’’ he added.
The President further stated that Nigeria’s vision for intra-African trade was for a free movement of made in Africa goods, noting that Nigeria was the largest economy in Africa.
He regretted that for too long, the country’s domestic production capabilities were neglected in favour of imports.
According to him, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan introduced by the current administration will help revive key job creating and import substitution sectors like agriculture, mining and manufacturing.
Speaking earlier, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Okechukwu Enelamah gave the terms of reference of the committee.
He said these included assessing the potential cost and impact of the AFCTA for Nigeria in relation to the benefits, identify the short, medium and long-term measure to prepare Nigerian businesses for the take-off of AFCTA trading group.
He said the terms of reference also included “a backup plan that covers selected scenarios and view the trade remedy options to safeguard the Nigerian economy from predatory and failed trade practices.”
According to the minister, an updated trade policy is being prepared for Nigeria and the draft will be ready for review by the end of the year.
Other members of the committee include Ministers of Budget and National Planning, Foreign Affairs, Finance and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
The Economic Adviser to the President, Nigerian Governors’ Forum, President Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and President, Nigeria Labour Congress among others, are also members of the committee.
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