Buhari: l Declined Signing Regional Economic Pact to Protect Local Industries, Youths FG, AU to resume AfCFTA

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negotiations in May
Omololu Ogunmade and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday in Abuja said he declined signing Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) involving the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) because of his commitment to secure the future of youths and to keep local industries alive.

The president made this disclosure while receiving a letter of credence from the Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Nigeria, Ketil Iversen Karlsen, at the State House.
He said his insistence on probity, transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors was dictated by his commitment to secure the future of the country for all Nigerians, especially the youths.

According to his Special Adviser, Media, Mr. Femi Adesina, the president said his administration would always promote the culture of honesty and integrity in service, with a view to guaranteeing a better future for the youth.

“Our insistence on probity is to encourage people to be accountable, and accept honesty as a lifestyle so as to secure the future of our youths,’’ he reportedly said.
Adesina also said the president observed that more than 60 per cent of Nigerians are youths and deserve to inherit a stable and prosperous country that they can be proud of, adding that the government would work assiduously to prevent waste and the depletion of resources by corrupt Nigerians.

He also said Buhari told the Head of Delegation of the EU that Nigeria had been reluctant to sign the EPA among ECOWAS countries because of the need to protect the economy, especially the industries and small businesses which currently provide jobs for most Nigerians.

Adesina said the president noted that signing the agreement would expose the industries and small businesses to external pressures and competitions, which could lead to closures and job losses.
“We are not enthusiastic about signing the EPA because of our largely youthful population. We are still struggling to provide jobs for them, and we want our youths to be kept busy.

“Presently, our industries cannot compete with the more efficient and highly technologically driven industries in Europe. We have to protect our industries and our youths,’’ he was quoted as saying.
Buhari, he added, commended the EU for its support for the rehabilitation of the North-east, noting that the Nigerian economy was already being repositioned to attract more investments that can create jobs.

Adesina added: “In his remarks, Karlsen said the EU will continue to support Buhari’s administration in the key priorities it listed including security, economy and the fight against corruption.
“He said the EPA was designed to accommodate and protect some economies that would find it difficult to compete.

“President Buhari also received Letters of Credence from the Ambassador of Italy, Dr. Stefano Pontesilli and the Ambassador of Spain, Mr. Marcelino Cabanas Ansorena.”
However, the federal government and the African Union (AU) will reopen discussions next month on the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) pact by Nigeria, THISDAY gathered exclusively yesterday.
It is expected that the negotiations would facilitate Nigeria’s adoption of the pact before the 31st Summit of the AU in Nouakchott, Mauritania in July.

Nigeria was one of the eight African countries that rejected the framework of agreement at the extraordinary meeting of the AU leaders in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21.
President Buhari opted out of the deal to establish a thriving free trade bloc after the Nigeria Labour Council (NLC) and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said the deal was detrimental to national interest.

Labour’s ground for objection was that removal of 90 per cent tariffs on goods would result in local job losses and dumping of goods, while MAN declined support unless the issues of market access and enforcement of rules of origin, among other concerns, were addressed.

The AfCTA deal would liberalise services, remove tariffs on 90 per cent of goods and create a trade bloc of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of more than $2 trillion
To consider the grounds for opposition, Buhari set up the Presidential Committee to widen consultations with stakeholders on the framework establishing AfCFTA.

The committee’s mandate expired on April 5 and the inter ministerial body, headed by Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Dr Okechukwu Enelamah, has appealed Buhari to extend its mandate by another two weeks.

Under its calendar to widen consultations with stakeholders, the committee held a meeting with the delegation of MAN on March 14 and has met with the labour union, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and the Poultry Association of Nigeria.
It has also sought input from the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service.

It was gathered that at the last committee meeting, Nigerian Chief Negotiator, Office for Trade Negotiations, Chiedu Osakwe, said NLC still required more transitional period and protectionism on commodities such as sugar, rice and fertilizer which are still at the state of infancy.
He said the committee also received a list from MAN but did not exceed the 10 percent the committee negotiated within the framework of protection.

In addition, trade groups are prevailing on Nigeria to be aggressive on negotiations on wide sectors that include aviation, service, banking, cement, where Nigeria has the market leadership in Africa.
The trade negotiator also warned Nigeria it risks losing businesses from the country to other African markets, if it continues to play hardball against the AfCTA, adding the objective of CFTA is to use Nigeria as a route to other African markets.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, who attended the meeting, said under the deal, said items which should be imported should not be the ones the country is capable of manufacturing.