Organized Labour has hailed the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari in allowing for more consultations and deliberations on the controversial African Union Continental Free Trade (ACFTA) Area expected to be ratified on Wednesday in Kigali, Rwanda. Labour also acknowledged and commended “the vigilance of all stakeholders”, namely manufacturers, NLC and business in calling for caution on international trade agreements that could undermine Nigerian development aspirations.
In a statement by Comrade Issa Aremu, NEC member of NLC and Vice President Industriall global union observed that while intra-African Trade can bring economic benefits to member states, there should be broad consultation and participation in the CFTA negotiations to avoid what he called “pit-falls of past trade agreements which have turned to be more devastating and negative”. He recalled that the uncritical Nigeria membership of World Trade Organizacion (WTO) in the 1990s with attendant lowering of tariffs, trade liberalization was the singular factor that led to the collapse of labour intensive industries like textile and automobile.
According to the labour leader “trade is the means to development, not the end itself therefore any trade pact must foster growth, create mass decent jobs and development, falling which is counterproductive”.
“For Nigeria to further reduce import duties, as envisaged by ACFTA will fuel cheaper imports smuggled goods that would overrun domestic markets of local products which because of high production costs are unable to compete, thus perpetuating “deindustrialisation, unemployment and poverty.” he added. Comrade Aremu said rather than Nigerians agonizing over non-ratification, it’s time for Okechukwu Enelamah Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, to do “first thing first” – prepare to engage all stakeholders on the trade pact, answer critical questions on the implications of the ACFTA, for ECOWAS treaty, and Common External tariff (CET) and the contentious Economic Partnership for Africa (EPA) .
Comrade Aremu said whatever the outcome of the deliberations, ACFTA should allow Nigeria the domestic policy space such that the policy objectives of job creation and industrialization as contained in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (EPRG) and Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) are not jeopardized.
The president had on Monday cancelled his planned trip to Kigali for the ratification event amidst mass protest at home.
The decision to establish the AfCFTA was taken in 2012 by AU leaders at their 18th ordinary session. AfCFTA is the first step in the implementation of AU Agenda 2063, the “Vision” for an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. Actual negotiations for the AfCFTA were launched at the AU Johannesburg Summit in 2015. The negotiations are in two stages: Stage one covers trade in goods and services; while stage two covers intellectual property, competition policy and investment. AfCFTA envisages national ownership through mass consultation which seems to be missing in Nigeria.
Comrade Aremu advised the Federal Government to be weary of trade pacts which according to him are “domestic industry-decent job blind” adding that with 50 per cent open unemployment in Nigeria, development and growth should take precedence before trade deals.
“Economic development of Africa is work in progress not an event of a televised ratification of trade deals, African countries must therefore be careful not to under- mine their respective ability to implement future measures to ensure industrialization and eradicate poverty”. “In any case there can be no Common African market without 200 million Nigeria market” the labour leader observed.