The organised private sector (OPS) in the southwest geopolitical zone has lent its support to Nigeria’s bid to join the African Continental Free trade Area (AfCFTA), a negotiated rules-based system to deepen and expand intra-Africa trade, but are demanding that the government takes infrastructural overhaul more seriously in order to give locally made goods better competitive edge.
The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME), African Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme (AWEP) and Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), among others, during the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations’ stakeholders sensitization and consultation on the AfCFTA agreement at Victoria Island, Lagos unanimously raised concern that financial and infrastructural hurdles continue to haunt operators in the Nigeria business ecosystem.
The chief fear, besides infrastructural deficit, has been the likelihood of unbridled shipments of stocks from Asia, Europe, and others into Africa and eventually into Nigeria, the largest market, which may compound problems of competition.
They, however, agreed that in spite of the concerns, the country, being the most populous and one of the largest economies on the continent, had high stakes in terms of expanding the shores of its array of commodities and services output.
Babatunde Ruwase, the LCCI president said the initiative was shrouded by huge doubts because the government failed to carry the stakeholders along earlier until there was a need for stakeholders consent.
“What we realized then was that the government had this very beautiful project, and went about it alone without informing us. Of course, when it comes to signing, they suddenly realized that stakeholders should have been carried along. That was why there was doubt surrounding it,” he said.
He allayed the fear of industrialists that the nation could be turned into a dumping ground because of the decayed infrastructure, saying Nigeria has much to offer the rest of the continent than to be put down by fear.
Ruwase commended the consultations efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari, saying the AfCFTA offers potentials for the largest free trade area in the world and would create a single continental market for goods and services as well as the customs union with free movement of capital.
He said: “Aside being the largest economy in Africa, we are also service providers which we have exported to other countries and we won’t lose out completely if we get our act right and be patriotic to products made in the country as Nigeria is the market”.
Jani Ibrahim the NACCIMA national vice-president, calling for increased support, urged the government to include members of the organised private sector who have formed a common front in the negotiation team to ensure that the nation’s manufacturing hub is protected from unfavourable concessions.
For MAN, though the agreement will create more intra-African trade and provide wider employment opportunities, the negotiations should be country efficient such that comparative advantage is the focus.
Its representative said for the 15 years duration, the market cap of 90/10 in the first five years should be sequenced whereby the first five years will be 30/70, second five years be 60/40 and the last five years be 90/10 which will avail industrialists ample time to meet up with the dictates of the agreement.
Chinedu Osakwe, the chief trade negotiator, and director-general NOTN said the various concerns of stakeholders have been taken into consideration as various meetings held across the geopolitical zones of the country were enlightening.
He said the domestic debate sparked on competitiveness is commendable and will consolidate and expand Nigeria’s position as the number one economy in Africa.
“It supports the industrial policy of Nigeria through the negotiated and agreed ‘Exclusion and Sensitive category lists’ to provide space for Nigeria’s infant industries and also provide a platform for Nigeria’s continues leadership role in Africa,” he said.