By John Okeke
Despite the critical nature of the theme of the Delocalized meeting of the Joint Committees on Administration, Finance and Budget; Macroeconomic Policies and Economic Research; Public Accounts; Trade, Customs and Free Movement, ongoing in Cotonou, Benin Republic, Members of Parliament from Nigeria were absent in the meetings where threats to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Cross Border issues and trade challenges were being discussed .
None of the nine Nigeria Members of Parliament in the committees were present.
They are: Mohammed Ali Ndume, Haruna Maitala Ibrahim, Saidu Alkali, Taiwo Musibau Kolawole, Emmanuel Bwacha, Michael C. Umeoji, Francis Alimikhena, Abdullahi Sankara Danladi and Murtala Isah.
Their absence however did not impede on the deliberations except for the consistency of mentions of Nigeria through the meeting centred on the theme: “African Continental Free Trade Area, How Feasible in the face of Cross-Border Threats”.
There was no Nigerian present to represent on issues where every member country representative gave critical views on progress of the sub-region.
It must be noted that 54 out of 55 countries have signed the African Continental Free Trade Area while 31 countries have ratified the agreement.
Debate on the viability of implementing the agreement at the ECOWAS Parliament Delocalized Joint Committee Meeting however considered the readiness of the continent to make progress in this regard amid intervening variables like currency difference, national consciousness, consumerism among others.
Interactions bordered on challenges and prospects of a borderless Africa is a period of terrorism and insecurity, pandemic and protectionism centered on underlying concerns that must be addressed before the Continental Free Trade Area can be implemented.
Members of Parliament want such concerns as fragmented markets, difference in cross-border communication cost, daunting transportation systems, effective settlement of disputes arising from commercial, investment and business relations, among others to be addressed by the agreement.
With the capacity to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty, 60 million from moderate poverty by 2035 and increase real income gain by 70%, the Secretary General of the ACFTA, Wamkele Mene, said the timely ratification of the free trade area is a must.
Inclusivity, shared benefits, growth and improved negotiations were also considered as major aspects of the AfCFTA the Parliamentarians will take up with National Assemblies of Member-States to enable them ratify the Free Trade Agreement.
ECOWAS Commisioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Tei Konzi, said restriction on land border movement of goods is what is at stake, not people.
“The border closure in question is that of land borders of Nigeria. As soon as the Nigeria border closed, all countries on the Abidjan – Lagos Corridor were affected. Nigeria was also affected within especially importers of raw materials,” he said.
After a meeting with Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS, a meeting was held in November 14, 2019 at the ECOWAS Commission with the attendance of Member-States directly affected by the Nigeria’s border closure. They are Nigeria, Benín Republic and Niger Republic.
Mr. Konzi said in a nutshell that Nigeria, besides other issues related to reason it took the border closure measure, complained mainly about trafficking and the invasion of non-community smuggled rice through its borders as a cause of the destabilization of its agricultural policy and the country’s heavy investment in rice production.
Also, the smuggling of petroleum products through borders was a matter that was brought to the fore. The ECOWAS Commissioner said that smuggling has however become a matter of serious concern to member-states.
MP Veronica Kadie Sessay of Sierra Leone said the remote causes of the issues should be looked at and engaged with policies. She also sought for a meeting of partners, institutions and all parties required to bring a solution in the protection of the interest of Nigeria, Benín Republic, Niger and West Africa. This should also consider the customs union.
MP Vilane Abdoulaye said the issues raised by Benin Republic should not just be ignored because it is not just a problem of Benín. The Senegalese Member of Parliament (MP) said language or a country’s geographical size, possible infrastructural deficit or Industrialization should not affect relationship for progress.
She recalled that at a point with the AfCTA, stronger economic countries showed protectionism because they thought there would be competition from Morocco and some other countries.
Humberto Elísio Lélis Sousa Duarte from Cape Verde, further on AfCTA, pointed out that 31 countries have so far ratified and many Member-States want the rest to ratify but countries must drive efforts on current and future instruments to ensure that trade agreements are complied with and countries would establish necessary conditions in harmony with such agreements.
MP Sado Nazaire from Benin raised a question the relevance of single currency to the Free Trade Area. He said: “Is trade going to be really free if we do not have a single currency? I ask because I think it is a prerequisite before we move on to free trade. Of this issue is not sorted out, I personally think we can’t expect to move ahead. I think the issue of single currency should be resolved. This is in my opinion very important”
He recalled the statement of the Secretary General of the AfCFTA who said his institution would work closely with Parliamentarians but said the approach is weak because West African and ECOWAS Parliamentarians are not strong. He encouraged the AfCFTA to work with governments of countries because when a decision is made by a government, Parliamentarians would follow suit.
He said a good strategy would be to work with the executive and ECOWAS Commission. The Parliament would however support. The issue of cost of local production was raised. He said producing chicken from Benín Republic for example cost more than importing from Europe. He stated the issues is one that must be resolved.
Albin Feliho, President of the National Confederation of Employers of Benín (CONEB), during a presentation at the panel discussion on “AfCTA: Challenges and Prospects of a borderless Africa in a period of terrorism and insecurity pandemics and protectionism”, said that to respond to the many problems
of Africa, it is important to define
efficiency of the CFTA in the context the multiplicity of factors of disintegration.
Citing some strategies for implementing the CFTA, he said these will include, among others: Meeting the logistical challenges of African countries.
“The obstacles that African countries face in entering industrial value chains are: difficult access to finance, lack of markets, regional capital, high transport costs, inadequate telecommunications infrastructure and energy, inefficient bureaucracy, heavy taxation and unstable, and the poorly qualified workforce,” he said.