President Muhammadu Buhari has been briefed by his technical advisory group and is now expected to sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) based on its recommendations, Trade and Investment Minister Okechukwu Enelamah told Leadership newspapers in a new interview.
“I am hopeful that the president will sign the agreement which includes remedies and plan of action and how we will engage and make the most of it,” Enelamah said.
On why the process is taking so long: “He (President Buhari) wisely decided that he will hold up, let’s do those stakeholders’ engagement. You don’t know what the consequences are, you may end up compromising something or making it a dumping ground. So on the basis of that, they decided to not sign it, not to sign immediately.
That work took over a year to be completed. Now, having finished that work, the president now asked for impact assessment, the pros and cons. So he set up a committee chaired by myself and the chief of staff to the president, basically to oversee a technical group… The point is let’s do it well and I think Nigeria has such strategic importance. By doing it well, we can provide leadership”
Why it matters: AfCFTA is expected to be one of the world’s largest trading bloc with a $2.5trillion GDP and $4 trillion in spending across the 54 countries. The agreement has reached the ratification threshold of 22 countries required to put it into effect starting May 30, 2019. Presently, 23 countries have deposited their instrument of ratification – the latest country being Zimbabwe.
The African Union wants Nigeria to become a founding party to the agreement by signing before May 30: “We are encouraging [Nigeria] to be among the founding parties and sign the agreement before May 30… Africa’s share of global trade is going to increase as a result of enlarging the domestic market…It is in their interests to ratify.”
Nigerian manufacturers and labour unions are lobbying hard against the agreement: These groups claim that the agreement could turn Nigeria into a dumping ground and cost the country significant revenue and jobs.
The anti-AfCFTA lobby seems to have the sympathies of President Buhari whose agenda has been clear on the need to expand local production and attain self sufficiency in essential commodities production, which might suffer a setback should the agreement go into effect.
In conclusion: Undoubtedly, Nigeria would prove a significant party to the agreement but the agreement would not be jeopardised without Nigeria’s involvement. Everybody is keen to see if President Buhari would sign the agreement. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, an advocate for the trade zone said in 2018 that Buhari’s “hands are too weak to sign” the agreement. Time will tell.
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