Organised Labour has hailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to hold more consultations on the controversial African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) Act.
Labour commended the vigilance of stakeholders, such as manufacturers, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and businesses, in calling for caution on international trade agreements that could undermine the country’s development aspirations.
Nigeria failed to attend the meeting of the AU in Kigali, Rwanda, last Wednesday, where the agreement was scheduled to be signed.
Speaking on the Federal Government’s position, NLC National Executive committee member and Industrial Global Union Vice President Comrade Issa Aremu noted that while intra-Africa trade could bring economic benefits to member states, there should be broad consultation and participation in the AfCFTA negotiations to avoid what he called “pit-falls of past trade agreements, which have turned out to be more devastating and negative”
He recalled that Nigeria’s membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the 1990s with attendant lowering of tariffs and trade liberalisation was the singular factor that led to the collapse of labour-intensive industries like textile and automobile in the country.
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 it is counter-productive.
“AfCFTA will fuel cheaper imports and 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 said.
Aremu said rather than Nigerians agonising over the act’s non-ratification, it is high time Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, engaged stakeholders on the trade pact, answer critical questions on the implications of the AfCFTA, for ECOWAS treaty, and Common External Tariff and the contentious Europe Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Aremu averred that whatever the outcome of the deliberations, AfCFTA should allow Nigeria the domestic policy space such that the objectives of job creation and industrialisation as contained in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan and Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan are not jeopardised.