â€¢ Blamed for cancellation of Buhariâ€™s Rwanda trip
By Alexander Enumah in Abuja
The objection raised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to Nigeria becoming a signatory to the framework agreement for establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) has cast an air of uncertainty on the fate of the trade deal, and has been blamed for President Muhammadu Buhariâ€™s sudden cancellation at the weekend of his scheduled trip to Kigali, Rwanda,Â Monday.
Buhari was billed to attend the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) in the Rwandan capital with other African leaders to sign the CFTA agreementÂ on Wednesday, in pursuit of the AU 2063 vision.
The agreement is expected to allow free trade among all countries that sign it.
But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tope Elias-Fatile, in a statementÂ Sunday, said Buhari cancelled the trip in order â€œto allow more time for input from Nigerian stakeholdersâ€.
Sources at the presidency also revealed that the advanced team of the presidentâ€™s entourage travelled to KigaliÂ on FridayÂ but has been asked to return home.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC), last week, had approved Nigeriaâ€™s participation and signing of the agreement.
Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, while briefing journalists in the State House, had said FEC gave the green light for Nigeria to sign the agreement, pointing out that the president would be in KigaliÂ on WednesdayÂ to sign the agreement.
He also said FEC resolved that Nigeria should bid for the location of the secretariat of CFTA in the country, in view of Nigeriaâ€™s outstanding role during the negotiation process.
â€œThe council approved for Nigeria to sign the agreement establishing CFTA in Kigali onÂ March 21, which will be signed by our president at an extraordinary session of the AU.
â€œIt also approved for Nigeria to express an interest in preparing a bid to host the secretariat where it will operate.
â€œNigeria has played a leadership role in the negotiations. Our chief negotiator and Director-General of the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations was the chairperson of the negotiating technical team.
â€œAlso, the African Ministers for Trade and Group was chaired by myself and so, if we played a leading role in this negotiation, we feel that it is better to lead than to follow.
â€œTherefore, we also got approval to express an interest in the secretariat of CFTA, so that the headquarters will be located in Nigeria.
â€œObviously, we are expecting it to be a competitive process but Nigeria will be interested.
â€œWe also got approval for the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations among the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and the private sector to work together and continue to the next stage of the negotiations.
â€œThe first stage is the overall framework establishing CFTA. The next is the protocol on trade in goods and associated annexes; also a protocol on trade in services, and finally, the protocol on rules and procedures for the settlement of disputes,â€ Enelamah said.
However, the NLC kicked against Nigeriaâ€™s participation in the continental free trade agreement, saying it could affect the nationâ€™s manufacturing sector and lead to job losses.
President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, had expressed the trade unionâ€™s opposition to the trade deal, saying: â€œWe at the Nigeria Labour Congress are shocked by the sheer impunity or blatant lack of consultation in the process that has led to this.
â€œWe are more worried by the probable outcome of this policy initiative if it is given life because of its crippling effect on local businesses and the attendant effect on jobs.
â€œWe have no doubt this policy initiative will spell the death knell of the Nigerian economy. Accordingly, we urge Mr. President not to sign this agreement either in Kigali or anywhere. We believe our national interest is at stake and nothing should be done to compromise this.â€
Asked to respond to the claim that there were insufficient consultations, Enelamah had said that his foreign affairs counterpart, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, had been mandated to widen consultations with stakeholders, including the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).
He said: â€œThe conclusion we reached was that it is very important that in doing the agreement, we are clear that we are doing is good for Nigeria. We want it to generate more exports.
â€œThe African market is 1.2 billion people, Nigeria accounts for 180 million of this. We have an ambitious economic agenda, and we are going into this wanting to clearly improve market access for our products and our people.
â€œWe are also going into it wanting to protect our markets from unfair trade practices â€“ dumping, smuggling and all the other things that can go wrong.â€