Nigeria on Monday demanded the establishment of a rules-based trading system if the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) it signed last July along with 54 countries in Africa is to succeed.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said Nigeria’s neighbours must learn to play by the rules by honouring the terms of the trade agreement they signed with other countries.
The minister said Nigeria will no longer accept a situation where other African countries would willingly renege on the terms of trade agreement they signed.
The minister was speaking on Monday in Abuja at the opening of the African Economic Congress (AEC) on the theme ‘Building the Africa We Want.’
Mrs Ahmed was represented at the event by the Special Adviser for Economic Affairs to the Vice President, Adeyemi Dipeolu.
In a panel discussion at the opening session on the “Impact of African Continental Free Trade Agreement on Africa’s Economy”, Mr Dipeolu confirmed that although Nigeria signed the agreement, the country was yet to ratify it.
‘Play by the rules’
“The ACFTA is trying to introduce a rules-based trading system in Africa. But, the very people who signed previous agreements with Nigeria on Customs cooperation on rules affecting transit of goods and not living up to those obligations they signed are the ones who want to hold Nigeria to the agreement it has just signed.
“What those countries want is for Nigeria to sign the ACFTA, while they continue to hold on to the things they have been doing (smuggling, dumping of sub-standard goods) to undermine the Nigerian economy for years,” the economic adviser said.
He accused the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member states of signing various agreements under the ‘Cotonou agreement’ to regulate trade between Nigeria and its neighbours.
He said they have refused to recognise the terms of those agreements.
He said the ACFTA disagreement is a good opportunity to remind all countries in the continent that these obligations need to be adhered to.
“How do you explain a situation where Nigeria increased the tariff on rice in 2013, and since then the export of Parboil rice from Benin Republic, which they do not eat, has risen by over 500 per cent, the second highest export of rice after China?
“How do you explain a situation where the first agreement they (Benin Republic) signed after the border was closed by the Obasanjo administration, was later dropped by its government?” he asked.
He urged other African countries to ensure they observe the terms of the agreements they signed. Mr Dipeolu said the ACFTA is an opportunity to demand that the term of trade agreements are kept.
“We must tell ourselves the truth in Africa. We signed for rules-based trade. We must observe ruled-based trade at all times. Which people in the world would allow anybody to dump on their economy and will be happy about it?” he said.
He expressed delight that in addition to the rules on Customs cooperation and transit management, “the ACFTA also has a peaceful settlement mechanism that allows countries to file petitions against trade practices that undermine others’ economies”.
Earlier, the former lawmaker who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Shehu Sani, criticised the government’s decision to close the country’s borders, saying “Nigeria cannot be talking about signing an ACFTA agreement and closing its borders”.
If Nigeria is desirous of building a new economic future for the continent, he said, the country has to sacrifice some of its ‘irrelevant’ relationships with some nations outside the country.
“I believe signing the agreement is one thing, and following to the letter all the requisites of those agreements is another.”
He said although the closure of the borders was for the protection of the country’s economy, it has created untold suffering in the North-east.
“Several thousands of Nigerians are currently in Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic. If because of wanting to protect our economy those people are sent home, how would Nigeria feel?
“In as much as we would want to protect our economy, we should always give consideration to our neighbours. Good neighbourliness has some imperatives,” he said
Meanwhile, the Special Advisor, African Union Commission, Jerome Afeikhena, who was also on the panel agreed for trade with other countries to grow, there must be a rule-based trading system which everyone must observe.
He said Nigeria appears to have delayed in signing the ACFTA agreement to allow for wider consultation with the private sector.
Mr Afeikhena also said the unfolding reality today is that most of the countries that signed the agreement may soon realise “they had signed against their interests”.
He identified the challenges to the achievement of regional integration to include inadequate finance as a result of the several heads of states not paying their fees due to multiple membership, tariff barriers, lack of infrastructure and absence of political courage.