The National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) has called for an urgent drafting of a Nigerian national trade policy document to harmonised all trade relations with neighbour and third-party countries. This is coming as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) goes into force on January 1, 2021. Following years of preparation, and a pandemic postponement from its original start date in mid-2019, the world will welcome the largest free trade area since the development of the World Trade Organization, by number of participating countries. The NANTS President, Dr Ken Ukaoha, in a statement on Nigeria’s “negotiations scorecard and agenda-setting for 2021” said the prolonged absence of trade and Investment related policies despite the long cry on the subjects has not helped in Nigeria’s positioning and the provision of negotiation compass.
Ukaoha said while heading to the AfCFTA implementation, it is important to review the nation’s 2020 trade environment with particular emphasis on negotiation process and draw lessons that would place Nigeria’s trade and economic agenda on the required platform for progress in 2021. “In the light of the foregoing, NANTS therefore presents as follows: Revisiting and rejigging the faulty Negotiation process: Government must be ready to accept that there are gaps and pitfalls (possible mistakes) created along the line of our negotiations – technically, procedurally and process-wise. For instance, there is the absence of a report-back mechanism within Nigeria’s AfCFTA negotiations process. Even amidst claims of consultation held (which may not be consultative enough), the tyre of the process of engendering National positions to the negotiation table is faulty, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in inflating it for speed and effectiveness, alongside the report back process. The contents and outcomes of negotiations cannot be handled in an opaque manner.
“It is therefore sad to note that many Nigerians are not aware of the contents of what are being negotiated under the AfCFTA, and this is an agreement that has implications on lives and livelihoods. The need to review and rejig both the platform and mode of negotiation is very key for the stability and capacity of Nigeria to benefit from Global trade. NANTS therefore calls on the Federal Government, and particularly, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investments to revisit and reawaken the possible adoption of the model used for the Nigeria-EU-EPA negotiations so as to integrate all actors and stakeholders in the negotiation process. Reviewing and expanding access to the AfCFTA’s DSM: With particular reference to the AfCFTA and the Dispute Settlement Provisions, NANTS notes with dissatisfaction that while the AfCFTA in Art 20 provides for DSM, and Art 5B provides that RECs are the building blocks to the AfCFTA (which is a direct recognition of community citizens), the DSM provisions in Art 21 however limit access to the very important nexus of the trade agreement to Member States only as parties to the Agreement (Art 1: (q) of the interpretation clause).
“From ugly incidences of intimidations, harassments, xenophobic attacks, locking of shops/business premises and investments experienced by Nigerian traders in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, etc; NANTS position is that in cases where such distortions apply, the DSM should make provisions for such businesses to access the body and seek remedy without waiting for the intervention of Member State. Alternatively, the Arbitration Tribunals in 8 RECs recognized by AfCFTA could be transformed and/or expanded with DSM capacity to handle inevitable disputes. We therefore call on Nigerian Government to take the leadership in promoting this idea for integration in the DSM.