James Emejo in Abuja

Citing lack of due consultations with economic stakeholders, the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) has opposed moves by the federal government to send a delegation to the forthcoming World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davous, Switzerland to participate in negotiations on electronic commerce (e-commerce).

NANTS President, Mr. Ken Ukaoha, told journalists at a media briefing that since December 2017, when Nigeria’s key representatives committed to some agreements and declarations during the 11th WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, there had not been any stakeholder engagement on the agreements which included e-commerce.

He said those who made commitments on behalf of the country “have not till today made any attempt at facilitating dialogue or consultation on the subject of e-commerce among economic stakeholders so as to secure a national position that would be canvassed at every given time and space.”

He said its decision to resist participation was based on three key issues including the fact that Nigeria is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and that there is currently no mandate to negotiate e-commerce rules at the WTO, adding that the current mandate is merely to examine various issues.
The NANTS president said: “We are worried that in spite of these assertions, during the Buenos Aires MC11, some countries agreed to ‘initiate exploratory work together towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce’.

“Arising from this, since then, a number of meetings have been held at the WTO ongoing those who would like to negotiate e-commerce rules and some countries are planning to issue a political statement for launching plurilateral negotiations on e-commerce at a breakfast meeting at the WEF in Davos.”

He said the Nigerian traders expressed dissatisfaction about the current situation where the country was being dragged into the negotiations albeit through the back door without proper analysis and due consultations on the merits and demerits as well as implicit evaluation of the country’s capacity to either negotiate or benefit from e-commerce.

He argued that though proponents of e-commerce disguised their proposals in the trojan horse of being necessary to unleash development through the power of SMEs using e-commerce, it comes with its adverse economic impacts especially for developing economies including Nigeria.
According to him, although e-commerce could aid job creation and development as well as expand innovation, increase consumer choice and increase global connectedness, it is nevertheless deficient in other aspects.

Ukaoha said: “But this is not the same as having binding global rules written by Google for its benefit. Again, given low levels of broadband penetration and the fact that only five per cent people in developing countries use e-commerce platforms, the probability of domestic e-commerce to grow in the developing countries and benefit their SMEs absolutely appears to be low.”

Account to him, though Nigeria is one of the technically advanced countries in Africa, it still imports 90 per cent of all the software it uses as local production of software is reduced to mere add-ons and extensions packages for the mainstream software.
“To this end therefore, the question is, who is making the profit and what is the country’s calculated benefit?,” he queried.

He said given the devastating impact of previous free trade agreements on small-scale farmers and infant industries in developing countries, the business community, government and citizens should reject the e-commerce negotiations at the WTO.
He said: “ NANTS supports free trade, sustainable development and democratic practice, and unfortunately, the e-commerce negotiations at the WTO fails to support any of these principles.”