The Federal Government will this week begin another round of negotiations with all the countries in the African region under the Continental Free Trade Agreement.
The Strategic Communications Adviser to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Constance Ikokwu, who confirmed the development, said the Nigerian negotiation team, consisting of eight members, would be led by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah.
She said the team had the mandate to engage colleagues from 53 other African nations on the emerging draft substantive text of the CFTA being reviewed in the six technical working groups.
Ikokwu explained that the meetings to be held in Rwanda would last for 11 days, adding that the team was expected to report back the proceedings to the Federal Government.
She said in a statement that the Nigerian trade team would continue to argue for flexibility that would allow it to safeguard the economy from a flood of imports, even as it remained an open economy.
The statement quoted Enelamah to have said, “These negotiations are a geo-strategic imperative because of Nigeria’s standing, position and leadership. Nigeria has a duty to provide leadership, inter alia, because the CFTA negotiations are based on a mandate from the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union.
“Increasing intra-African trade is crucial in a global economy that is turning protectionist. The CFTA negotiations provide a huge opportunity for economic growth and increased welfare in Africa, in a global economy in rapid but uncertain transformation.
“At the same time, we will continue to take into cognizance the complexities of our domestic market and ensure appropriate safeguards for the Nigerian economy.”
The AU had set a deadline of December 2017 for the adoption of the CFTA. However, experienced negotiators say it is a gruelling process and that the adoption will depend on how much progress is made.
Once concluded, the CFTA will enhance the movement of goods and services, boost trade facilitation and support the Presidential Initiative on the Ease of Doing Business within the 54-member block of the continent.