By Felix Khanoba
The need to reposition the nation’s Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) as well as strengthening Nigeria’s participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) formed the major discussions at the just concluded annual conference of Commerce and Industry Correspondents Association of Nigeria (CICAN).
Speaking at the event which was held on Friday in Abuja, Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Katagum, said the Federal Government is leaving no stone unturned to turn around the fortunes of MSMEs in the country through the Survival Fund.
The minister, who declared the conference open, said the Federal Government has, overtime, created platforms to improve access to finance for MSMEs in order to boost production, increase the value of trade, enhance the investment climate, foster innovation and entrepreneurship.
This, she said, was in addition to the deliberate and pragmatic policies geared towards supporting and sustaining small businesses in the country, thereby equipping entrepreneurs to compete globally, especially under the Africa AfCFTA.
Amb.Katagum further explained that in a bid to guarantee continuity in support of MSMEs in the country, the Federal Government harnessed the prime policies of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and the National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDEP) into the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP), in order to sustainably create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
According to her, the policies are aimed at boosting productivity levels of businesses in the country, thereby accelerating the growth of the domestic market and creating profitable connections to regional, continental and global markets.
The minister revealed that at the last Presidential Retreat for members of the Federal Executive Council, President Muhammadu Buhari underscored the importance of MSMEs as engine of economic growth and pledged that government would do everything possible to support MSMEs, including removing all bottlenecks to MSME’s access to finance.
She pointed out that Buhari recently inaugurated the National Council on Monitoring and Evaluation of Executive Order 005 on local content which will, among others, be a game changer for MSMEs.
Katagum also stated other pro-MSME interventions by government, such as the recent approval of the revised National Policy on MSMEs, the planned floating of an MSME Micro Finance Bank by the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), and government’s emphasis on single digit interest credit facility for MSMEs.
On his part, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Sector Matters, Francis Anatogu, who spoke on AfCFTA, said Nigeria stands to gain massively from the trade pact with the right structures on ground.
Anatogu, who doubles as Secretary, National Action Committee on AfCFTA, harped on the “need to maintain and grow the market share of local businesses in the face of the increased competition that will ensue with AfCFTA;
A need for proactive measures to grow local content of made-in-Nigeria to satisfy rules of origin, reduce unit cost, create new jobs and attract investment. “
Also speaking, the Director General of the National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), Jelani Aliyu, said with the quiet revolution going on in the automobile industry, Nigeria stands a good chance to emerge a dominant force in AfCFTA.
According to Jelani, the automotive sector in Nigeria has the capacity to produce thousands of jobs, adding that 400,000 vehicles per annum are being produced in the country with some being exported by companies like Innoson.
One of the resource person at the conference, Cobham Nsa-Executive Director of Forefront Magazine, called for strong measures that will prevent Nigeria being turned to a dumping ground of AfCFTA, even as he called for strong MSMEs sector.
He said : ” I dare say that continuous mouthing of the cliché ‘Nigeria should not be a dumping ground’ would do us no good.
” Only concrete steps that strengthen and advance the frontiers of MSMEs Survival Fund beneficiaries remain the most suitable way to go, even in reaping the benefits of AfCFTA .
” Top government officials and stakeholders involve in planning and implementing policies around the Survival Fund Scheme must understand the imperatives of managing and reducing risk; building resilience among beneficiaries and integrating their activities into the national economic net.”
Earlier, CICAN’s chairman, Fred Idehai, commended the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in its efforts to provide support to MSMEs following the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
While expressing delight over the manner the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is charting better path for the economy, Idehai, however, cautioned that Nigeria must keeps its eyes wide open to prevent other countries dumping their goods in the country in the name of AfCFTA.
The AUTHORITY reports that the Conference had its theme as “The Role of Nigeria’s MSMEs, Export, Commodities, Trade and Investment in Stabilising the Post-Covid-19 Economy : Issues and Challenges, ” with the sub themes as :”The Place of AfCFTA in Nigeria’s Economic Diversification Plan: Pros & Cons” and the “FG’s MSMEs Survival Fund: Successes, Lessons and Pitfalls,” focused on key issues impacting the trade, investment and industrial sub-sectors of the economy.
Representatives of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN), Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) and Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) also spoke at the conference.
The event also witnessed the unveiling of the Special Independence edition of CICAN magazine- Industry Tracker, by Ambassador Katagum.