The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Thursday restated its call for Nigeria to ratify the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).
AfCFTA is a trade agreement designed by the African Union (AU), with the goal of creating a single market followed by free movement and a single currency union.
LCCI President, Babatunde Ruwase, said at a press briefing organised by the chamber on the state of the nation’s economy in Lagos that it was the first step in the negotiation process.
AfCFTA was signed by 44 African countries in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, while Nigeria withheld its assent from the agreement at the 11th hour, citing lack of wide consultations with relevant stakeholders.
President Muhammadu Buhari had explained that the delay in Nigeria’s signing of the agreement was borne out of a desire to ensure that national interests, as well as regional and international obligations were balanced.
Ruwase said: “You will recall that the AfCTA has been contentious in the last couple of months. Nigeria did not just sign the agreement which held March 2018.
“As a result of the concerns raised by the stakeholders, Lagos Chamber of Commerce organised a stakeholders’ forum to discuss the matter.
“LCCI also participated in the forum organised by the Nigeria office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN) headed by Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe.
“In all of these interactions, we have assurances that safeguard measures would be put in place to protect sensitive sectors of the economy, most of these are in the manufacturing sector.”
He said that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo also gave assurances at his quarterly interaction with the OPS that selected sectors of the economy would enjoy protection as impact study would be conducted.
“In the light of the foregoing, our position is that we sign the agreement since signing is the only first step in the negotiation process.
“There will be subsequent protocols that need to be discussed and negotiated as they relate to specific sectors.
“It is also our understanding that adjustment can also be made as the process progresses,” the LCCI president said.
He said the entire process and integration arrangement should be viewed as a work in progress, noting that trade issues were not static, but dynamic.
Ruwase said: “It is important to be part of the process in order to influence the direction of the agreement and protect our interest.
“If we can be part of the ECOWAS, we believe that we can also be part of AfCFTA. The safeguard measures in ECOWAS can be replicated in the AfCFTA.
“The reality is that no economy can exist in isolation of other economies.”
He acknowledged that the economy was facing challenges in infrastructure, power and cost of doing business, saying government should sign, while putting measures in place to address the challenges.
“The totality of our economy is not about manufacturing.
“Manufacturing contributes about 12 per cent to GDP; we have services, financial institutions, distributive trade and creative industry, doing very well.
“We have more than manufacturing to offer the world. Let us look at the agreement holistically, because we have a lot to gain by being there,” he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), had also urged government to ratify the trade deal without delay.
However, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) had said that government should be circumspect on the decision to sign the AfCFTA, but await the outcome of a credible study that should guide its negotiations.
MAN said its concerns were yet to be addressed, stating that the recently conducted and launched study by the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN) has still not addressed the lapses.