Buhari Inaugurates Fresh Committee on African Continental Free Trade

President Muhammadu Buhari (M) flanked by the SGF Mr. Boss Mustapha, Minister of Industry Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammmed and others during the inauguration of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) held at the Council Chambers, State House Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZ

•Says Nigeria with largest economy in Africa can’t afford to get it wrong

President Muhammadu Buhari friday in Abuja inaugurated the National Action Committee on African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) with the charge to the committee that Nigeria as the largest African economy could not afford to get it wrong.

The president, who told members of the committee in the State House that trade was crucial to job creation, growth and health of the economy, was also swift to describe trade as a catalyst for regional and global integration.

He described the agreement as an integral part of the African Union (AU) 2063 Agenda, which he said was conceived to promote economic and social integration in Africa.

“We are very hopeful of creating a single African market for ‘Made -in- Africa’ goods and services. This trade, together with free movement of people and capital will result in faster integration of African economies.

“As a government, we must ensure that Nigeria’s position remains that such integration must be rules-based with built-in safeguards, against injurious practices. Nigeria’s approach to the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement has been very measured and consistent. Our logic was simple, as Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, we cannot afford to get it wrong,” he said.

Buhari said it was in Nigeria’s commitment to ensure that it got it right that it consulted widely before he signed the agreement on its behalf in July this year, explaining that he only appended his signature to the agreement after receiving a satisfactory report from the consultations and studies conducted.

Explaining the rationale behind the inauguration of the committee, the president said the federal government was not oblivious of both the benefits and challenges inherent in Nigeria’s involvement in the agreement.

According to him, such moves called for the need to put in place programmes and initiatives which “reflect our national trade objectives and development.”

He said achieving this “requires aligning, restructuring existing development projects, programme and initiatives,” adding that “where there are gaps, we must address them.”

He told members of the committee that their mandate was to complement the efforts of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government and other stakeholders in the effort to make the agreement beneficial to Nigeria.

According to him, measures aimed at forestalling imminent threats posed by such challenges need to be put in place to get rid of such threats.

Disclosing that he had charged government officials to provide needed support for the committee, Buhari said federal government’s expectations from the agreement was job creation, increased local production and exportation.

“As a committee, your mandate is to support the efforts of MDAs of government, stakeholder associations and businesses to realise the benefits of the AfCFTA, while putting measures to address any threats that may arise. All parties must work together and not allow any loopholes that might prove injurious to the Nigerian economy.

“I have directed all key ministers and senior government officials to provide maximum support to your committee. For us as a government, our expectation from this agreement is job creation for our youth, increased production of our local raw materials and ultimately, exporting quality Made in Africa goods,” he stressed.

While tasking the committee to submit to him quarterly reports on its progress, Buhari said he looked forward to receiving its first report in March next year.

Also speaking at the occasion, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, disclosed that the agreement was being negotiated in two phases. He listed components of the first phase of the agreement to include: framework agreement, protocols for trade in goods and trade in services as well as the mechanism for dispute resolution.

According to him, the first phase of the negotiations became effective on May 30, 2019, one month after the 22nd African country ratified the agreement.

He said: “Although the main Phase agreement has been completed, negotiations are continuing on the annexures and appendices. Notable items being negotiated include among others, the schedule concessions for goods and services and the product specific rules of origin for the remaining 12 percent of tariff lines. It is estimated that the Schedule of Concessions will become effective in July 2020.”

Adebayo also disclosed that the second phase of the negotiations, which would commence in January 2020, would focus on investment, competition policy and intellectual property rights.

“In the preparations and actual negotiations, the relevant entities of government are involved. Stakeholders are also consulted and participate in the negotiations as observers. Nigeria undertook an extensive nationwide stakeholder consultation and rigorous technical studies prior to signing on to the AFCFTA agreement on 7 July 2019.

“From the stakeholder engagements and technical studies, we established that the AFCFTA can facilitate economic growth and diversification through preferential access to Africa’s market.

“We also established that in order to get the full benefits of the Agreement, Nigeria needs to: increase her production and service capacities; implement adjustment measures such as retooling and up scaling of existing businesses; resolve bottlenecks in energy, logistic and quality infrastructure; improve public service delivery, education and health,” he added.

He listed the mandate of the National Action Committee to include “conclusion of a common undifferentiated ECOWAS schedule of concessions for trade in goods and trade in services for AFCFTA and Common External Tariff (CET) negotiations; championing programmes to resolve the critical continental level challenges such as smuggling and abuse of rules of origin and production capacity constraints as well as border and trade rules enforcement.”

The minister also said NAC was saddled with the responsibility of participating in the conclusion of the ongoing trade reform programmes at ECOWAS including the adoption of a common trade policy, establishment of an ECOWAS Trade Policy Committee and resolving issues in the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation.
He said the committee would be chaired by him while the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning would serve as the alternate chairman.

Other members of the committee, according to Adebayo, are Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Sector Matters, Office of the Chief of Staff as the committee Secretary; Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation; Permanent Secretary Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment; Director General, Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations; Senior Special Assistant to the President on Development Policy; Office of the Chief of Staff; Director, Technical Services, Federal Ministry of Finance and the Director level representatives of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Others are representatives of the Federal Ministries of Industry, Trade and Investment; Transportation, Aviation, Agriculture and Rural Development, Petroleum Resources, Mines and Steel Development, Power, Communications and Digital Economy, Works and Housing and Information and Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

Also involved in the assignment are Director and Comptroller level representatives of the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, Central Bank of Nigeria, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency, Nigeria Ports Authority and Nigerian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies.

Adebayo also listed stakeholder members of the committee to include national executive representatives of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, National Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Nigeria Labour Congress, National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Federated Association of Agricultural Commodities Associations of Nigeria and National Association of Nigerian Traders.

Also to serve in the committee are representatives of the Technology/Digital Economy Associations, Financial Services, Health, Education and Creative Services sectors.