Why Nigeria suspended signing African free trade deal –Osakwe
President Muhammadu Buhari suspended signing the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement in order to allow more time for consultation with relevant stakeholders, the National Office for Trade Negotiations has explained.
In an interview with journalists in Abuja on Monday, the Director-General of NOTN and Chief Negotiator, Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe, said the government only suspended rather than cancelled the signing.
The Federal Executive Council had given its nod for the President to sign Nigeria’s participation in the continental free trade agreement in March and Buhari was scheduled to sign the document on March 21 in Kigali, Rwanda.
However, in a surprise move, the President failed to travel to Kigali even though an advanced team had gone ahead to prepare for the public appendage of Buhari’s signature to signal Nigeria’s participation in the agreement.
Some stakeholders, including the Nigerian Labour Congress, had argued that they were not consulted before the Federal Government decided to sign the agreement.
Osakwe explained that Buhari suspended signing the document to allow more time for relevant stakeholders to make their contributions before Nigeria would signal its participation in the trade deal.
He said, “We did not withdraw from signing. The President’s decision was that he was suspending signing until the nation had nationwide, industry-wide and sector-wide negotiations and consultations, and report same to him with recommendations.
“We analysed all the feedback that we obtained from the nationwide process. So, I will not characterise it as a withdrawal of signature, but actually a suspension of signature until what the President had asked for had been done, which we did from the 15th of March and basically concluded it with the Nigerian Bar Association Session on Business Law on the 28th of June. It was a three-month long process.”
He explained that the AfCFTA was a decision taken by African Heads of State and Government in 2012, which was rooted in the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action, the 1991 Abuja Treaty and in 2012 at the 18th edition of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
Osakwe said the findings from the just-concluded consultation process showed that stakeholders wanted Nigeria to continue with participating in the free trade area as they also asked the government to speed up work on certain issues.
According to the NOTN boss, 47 countries have signed the document, while 11 have ratified it. He added that the free trade area would come into effect when 22 countries must have ratified the deal.
Asked when Nigeria would likely sign the document, Osakwe said it was a political decision outside the realm of the NOTN. He also declined to speak on the likely scenario if the country declines to sign the document.