Presidential C’ttee on CFTA Asks Buhari for Two-week Extension

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…Meets NLC, MAN, governors’ forum

Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

The presidential committee to widen consultation on the framework establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) has appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to extend its mandate by two weeks.

The request, THISDAY gathered exclusively last night, is to allow it firm up consultations with major stakeholders and determine how Nigeria will benefit sector by sector from the CFTA.
The committee’s deadline to submit it report to the president expired thursday.

It was established on March 27 to review the framework of agreement on CFTA, after Nigeria backed out from the extraordinary meeting of African Union Heads of State and Government just when they were set to sign the CFTA agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21.

The request for extension is to pave way for Nigeria’s ratification of the pact ahead of the next AU summit in July.

Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, presided over yesterday’s committee meeting.

The parley also had in attendance the Ministers of Science and Technology, Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar.

Other top government officers at the meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs included the Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters, Adeyemi Dipeolu; Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, (NIPC), Yewande Sadiku; Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue (FIRS) Mr. Babatunde Fowler; Executive Secretary, Nigeria Export Promotion Council, Segun Awolowo; DG of the Nigeria Office for Trade Negotiations, Chiedu Osakwe; the Senior Special Assistant, Public Sector, Francis Anatogu; a representative of Customs Comptroller General, A.S Aliyu, and the General Manager Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), Edward Kabir.

The agreement to establish a free trade bloc within 18 months was signed by 44 other African countries without Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.

The African CFTA that will liberalise services and remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods is expected to create a trade bloc of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of more than $2 trillion.

President Buhari opted out of the single continental market for goods and services with free movement of business persons and investments because his government claimed the agreement had not been considered.

Also, both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) were opposed to the agreement.

The NLC grounds for objection was that the trade liberation would lead to job losses, while MAN said it would not support unless the issues of market access and enforcement of rules of origin, among other concerns, were addressed.

While shedding light on the progress by the committee, Osakwe, who is also Nigeria’s chief negotiator, said the committee last Tuesday met with the NLC leadership while it had another meeting yesterday with the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN).

He said the committee had also requested for inputs from other key stakeholders, including MAN, FIRS, NPA Customs and Immigrations, adding that the committee will look at Executive Order 5 when working out the details of the trade.

Osakwe said: “Last week, we had a meeting with the Nigeria Poultry Association, and we are hoping to meet with Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, who is the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). NLC still requires transitional period- they still insist on protection. We have also received a list from MAN, but it does not exceed the 10 percent we have negotiated within the framework of protection. We also got a demand from trade group for Nigeria to be aggressive on our negotiation.

“Similarly, we have explained to them the contents of the 250-page document which some of them had not read, we also asking from them concerns that they want to protect. We are asking some of them to join us on the sensation and I must tell you that the NLC president has agreed to join us on the trail and meet with the Secretary of CFTA.’’

The trade negotiator warned that Nigeria risks exiting businesses from the country to other African markets if it maintains its ground against the deal, adding that the objective of CFTA is to use Nigeria as a route to other African markets.