Recent inauguration of the twenty-one man Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) committee to negotiate trade deals as well as identify opportunities to promote investments in the economy by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment has elicited reactions from development experts and industrialists.
Explaining more on the move, the Minister, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah said the move will help to moderate, diversify and grow the Nigerian economy as well as rebrand infrastructure for the country’s trade policy and produce welfare gains and development while reinforcing the process of national economy recovery.
Whereas part of the Committee’s terms and conditions include to identify the opportunities and challenges facing the country in trading with other African countries, Nigerians have called on the government not to worry itself in negotiating any trade deal, but to lift ease of doing business so that Nigeria can first of all, produce goods that are enough for local consumption before exports.
According to Eric Umeofiah, managing director of Erisco Foods Limited, makers of Tomato paste, all we need is ease of doing business to grow manufacturing.
“When a manufacturer cannot get enough forex and at the right time, how can he produce enough for local consumption and think of exports?”
“We need government to remove business development obstacles caused mainly by policy inconsistencies and dearth of infrastructures. We manufacturers are ready to do our best but we are not getting the best from government.
Another manufacturer who pleaded anonymity said “Power is our greatest problem. We closed in February because of power, we just started again first week of April because we borrowed money to buy giant generator”.
“It is our wish to grow but we do not know when we will pay back for the loan we used to buy the generator.
A development economist, Dr. George Imonikhe said if government can first of all work on how to encourage manufacturers with provision of infrastructure and enabling environments’ capable of enabling them to raise capacities, then it can start to think of negotiating trade deals with African states.
He said “Currently, Nigeria lacks comparative advantage on produced goods because the cost of production in Nigeria is too high to the extent that some Nigerians cannot even buy them not to talk of other African nations”.
“I think the government is putting the cart before the horse if it goes ahead to negotiate trade deals with other African nations because we do not have the local production capacity that will even sustain local market before international market.
“If we go ahead to negotiate any trade deal as it is now, Nigeria will lose because the deal will only encourage imports from Africa and that will kill local capacity who have been suffering from ease of doing business.
“There is no need of telling ourselves lies on this matter. We do not have any goods outside oil where we have comparative advantage. Even the comparative advantage we have in oil is not because of our industrial productivity but simply because it is a natural resource.
“Trade deals are better on non-oil exports and I do not think we have any product that is cheaply produced here in Nigeria than any other African country. I stand to be corrected.
“So let the Ministry in charge of CFTA first raise ease of doing business to boost local production capacity in Nigeria before going ahead to seal any continental trade deal, otherwise, Nigeria will end up being a dumping ground while our struggling industries will finally close shop.
Business Hilights recalls that Dr. Enelamah said during the inauguration that “We need to grow and modernize the Nigerian economy through African trade integration. This would require focus, discipline, organization, determination and the exercise of that famous entrepreneurial spirit for which Nigerians are renowned the world-over”.
At their summit in 2012, African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government decided to establish a Continental Free Trade Area, as part of a plan to industrialize the Continent by 2063 as well as boost Intra-Africa trade, currently, at only 19 percent.
Nigeria’s goal with the CFTA is to create win-win partnerships that will drive inward investment; support Nigerian exporters of goods and services to secure expanded market access in other African economies; and create jobs for Nigerians.
The executive secretary of the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) Olusegun Awolowo said the sole interest of ambassadors and foreign nationals who had visited the agency was to promote their export which is Nigeria’s import.
He said it is high time the tide was turned and Nigeria made strong enough to promote its own exports. Awolowo said the country has all what it takes to be self-reliant and still export its excess.