The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelamah, yesterday said the committee set up by the federal government to review the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would conclude work this month, following which the report will be submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for him to make a decision.
Enelamah, said this during an interview on Arise TV, a sister broadcast station of THISDAY.
Nigeria in March last year declined to sign the agreement to create the AfCFTA, which was signed at an extraordinary summit in Kigali, Rwanda by representatives of 44 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states.
The deal was expected to improve the economic prosperity of the African nations by removing barriers to trade, like tariffs and import quotas, and allowing the free flow of goods and services between its members.
But the minister said: “Remember that it is not a one-off thing. Where you don’t sign by March or April 2018, you can’t sign the agreement. So, it is going to last for a very long time.
“This is a case where we decided to slow things down so that we would have more buy-in. So, it is not a matter of speed, it is a matter of travelling with others.
“So, the work is being completed. I believe the committee will complete its work this month. They were given three months and that report will be completed this month and passed to the president and the president will advise us on how to make full benefit of the AfCFTA.”
Continuing, the minister said the government had developed policies to attract investments into the country.
He also said the federal government has also put in place measures to improve the business environment in the country.
“We have done a lot working with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council for investors to come in. Let’s start with what we have done for existing investors. As you know, wisdom demands that you look out for what you have first before looking out for those to bring money.
“So, what we are doing with existing investors is very important and for that, there are two areas that the government has really done a lot of work on.
“One is the Pioneer Status Incentive Scheme and the other one is that as they invest, they want to receive tax holiday, which was suspended before we came in.
“We have now restored, revamped and streamlined it and it is working very well presently. The second one was the Export Expansion Grant for those that want to export and grow their businesses.
“You then come to the point of new investors, which is made of foreign direct investors, foreign portfolio investors and domestic investors.
If you look at the commitments investors made in 2017, it was over $60 billion and in 2018 it jumped to over $70 billion. Now, these investments may not come in as quickly as you want, but you need to keep monitoring before you get the actual flows,” he explained.
He also said the forthcoming election could have also slowed down potential investors.
Responding to a question on the country’s performance on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business, the minister pointed out that efforts aimed at making it easier to do business in the country is one area that successive governments ought to have paid attention to a long time ago.
According to Enelamah, before the present administration was elected, the country kept dropping in the Ease of Doing Business ranking.
“We were in the top 100 in 2006 or so but from 2006-2015, we had dropped to between 169thand 170th. But as a government, we made it a priority that that reversal has to stop and we have to move forward.
“And to the credit of our president, he commissioned a council, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council to oversee all the efforts of government working with the private and other stakeholders to make it easier to do business in our country.
“One indicator of success is what the World Bank measures – the Ease so called World Bank ease of doing business index. We are quite gratified and happy that the first year of our efforts resulted in a very significant job like you said, 24 places and as you know, when you have such rapid gains, you need to consolidate these gains and then move forward.
“I’m fully persuaded that the forward movement would continue.
For some reason last year, a lot of the improvements we were making were not recognised by the World Bank.
“I think the most important message is that this is a joint effort and everybody benefits if it’s easier to do business in Nigeria,” he added.