By Chesa Chesa
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday inaugurated the Committee for Impact and Readiness Assessment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) agreement, saying that his administration will not sign any treaty without assessing its impact on the lives of Nigerians.
He had some months ago declined assenting to the deal which intends to expand free trade among African countries, on the grounds that he had to be sure of its usefulness to the country first. The committee is however expected to wrap up its assignment by the end of this year.
Making brief remarks after inaugurating the committee, Buhari said “we are determined to breakaway ffrom the past practice of committing Nigeria to treaties without a definite implementation plan to actualise the expected benefits while mitigating the risks.
“We cannot go back to the days of signing agreements without understanding and planning for the consequences of such actions and our country being the worst for it.
“Few months ago, I directed a nationwide stakeholders’ engagement on the Africa Free Trade Continental Area Agreement to understand the true impact of this agreement on Nigeria and Nigerians, considering the existing domestic and regional policies as it relates to trade.
“From the consultation, the key issues raised by stakeholders were abuse of rules of origin, smuggling arising from difficulties in border controls, unqualified impact of legacy preferential trade agreements, low capacity and capability of local businesses to conduct international trade, costly finance, insufficient energy and transport logistics infrastructure but our Economic recovery and Growth Plan is addressing these issues.”
He therefore tasked the committee – which has the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments as its Chairman; and Chief of Staff to the President as Co-Chairman – to concentrate on these issues raised during the nationwide consultations in order to find lasting solutions to them.
“You are expected to develop short, medium and long term measures that will address any challenges arising there from”, he told them while stressing that Nigeria’s vision for intra-African trade is for a free movement of Made-in-Africa goods.
The Nigerian leader, who stressed that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, regretted that for too long, the country’s domestic productive capabilities were neglected in favour of imports.
In his remarks, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, disclosed that the committee’s terms of reference are: Assess the potential cost and impact of the AFCTA for Nigeria in relation to the benefits, identify the short, medium and long term measure to prepare Nigerian businesses for the take-off of AFCTA trading group and a backup plan that covers selected scenarios and view the trade remedy options to safeguard the Nigerian economy form predatory and failed trade practices.”
Other members of the committee are: Ministers of Budget and National Planning; Foreign Affairs; Finance; Justice; Economic Adviser to the President; Nigerian Governors’ Forum; President, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry; and President, Nigeria Labour Congress, among others.