…As NLC says AFCTA will benefit workers, open Africa trade relations***
The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has cautioned the nation’s signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) without adequate consideration to Nigeria’s metrological inadequacies in local manufacturing content, would most likely open the economy to further danger of dumping substandard, fake and life endangering products on Nigeria.
The body indicated this, even as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba on Tuesday commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, saying the agreement would benefit the lives of Nigerian workers and open trade relations in the region.
In a statement issued by the NAGAFF Founder, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, the group noted that though Nigeria has a very large market, desired by local, regional and international marketers, it should have first ensured that its products could effectively compete with those of other countries before agreeing to throw its borders open, for a mandatory influx.
“It is unthinkable to note that we signed into this agreement without ensuring that Nigerian made products can compete effectively with other manufacturers outside the country.
“And for the avoidance of doubt, we do know that metrology is the science of measurement. It is the component of the National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) that ensures accuracy of measurements to the
international system of units (SI). We do also know that the institution that provides and ensures this accuracy and traceability of measurement in every country is the national metrology institution
(NMI) which is domiciled in Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and located in Enugu state.
“We also know that NMI is the custodian of the national primary measurement standards for all fields of measurements namely: – mass, volume, length, pressure, temperature, force, etc. It is therefore our
informed opinion that building adequate infrastructure for metrology in Nigeria will provide the required confidence in Made-in-Nigeria products and services and will be highly competitive amongst the foreign products. In other words if Nigeria must benefit from AfCFTA we must ensure NMI is made to be adequately functional and proactive to quality assurance and standards.
“And for us in NAGAFF we have to continue to advise the government through our public policy advocacy, the need for government to pay greater attention to the informal sector groups than the present position wherein the government has continued with uncommon support for the organized private sector with their bogus and unverifiable economic inputs to the ailing economy.
“We have also and severally advised government to return Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to the ports and borders rather than the present situation wherein they are only invited when the need arises at the ports. It is on record that even when their interest is indicated, the products may have been released and exited out of the ports and borders. Indeed the Nigeria Customs operatives are not conversant and familiar with matters on quality assurance and standards.
“Our informed position at the entry points is to state clearly that if we must make gain from the free trade agreement, SON is the roadmap meaning that NMI and SON efficiency are of utmost
importance. The other critical infrastructure is steady power generation and distribution and indeed human resource development and management. Otherwise AfCFTA may become an economic suicide for Nigeria.
We therefore recommend as follows to Mr. President:-
1. Delay the implementation for the next one year.
2. Invite SON management to tell you what shall help them to discharge their statutory duty effectively and efficiently.
3. Engage NAGAFF, CRFFN and our sister associations to make inputs on how best free trade agreement can be implemented operationally at the entry points.
4. The Nigerian Customs as the lead agency of the government in our entry points, may wish to engage the critical stakeholders in conjunction with SON, NSC and NAFDAC to educate and enlighten the informal sector groups on matters of compliance to Customs regulations and quality assurance and standards of products entering Nigeria.
“The principle and/or doctrine of “you see something you say something” should be a watchword. It must be a collective effort on the part of government and the people to achieve the desired objective.
“May we therefore under the circumstance inform the Government that inherent abuse on ECOWAS treaties and implementation should be a guide to that of free trade in Africa. Nigeria definitely is a target while acknowledging that we must not be an island.
“At this juncture, it has become pertinent to take a flash back into history, especially the ETLS programme, which eventually, left Nigeria and its economy badly bruised. Nigeria has a large market no doubt.
It ended up serving as a dumping ground for products from other African countries which may have repackaged the products originally manufactured outside Africa. Let us take coffee as an example.
Coffee is primarily produced in France, but may have been imported into countries like Cote D’ ivoire, but repackaged and re-labelled as being produced in Cote D’ ivoire and exported to Nigeria enjoying zero tariff under ETLS. This is the source of our fear. That this might be the fate of Nigeria as other African countries, that depend solely on imports from Europe and other parts of the world, will import such products into their countries, only to repackage and re-label them and again export them to Nigeria, paying little or no tariff under the AfCFTA.
“We therefore urge the Government to be circumspect in commencing the implementation of the AfCFTA. Some safeguard measures as we mentioned above should be put in place first. Recall that in 1999 – 2001, NAGAFF advocated that the Nigerian Ports must take proactive measures noting that our ports are undergoing second phase of development wherein manufacturing firms started springing up in the ports’ arena.
Truck parks became an issue within the ports. We advised that truck terminals should be established outside the ports on call up system. Nobody listened to us and today the issue of truck parks is a problem”, Dr. Aniebonam further reasoned.
But while NAGAFF is stressing the need for caution, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, saying the agreement would benefit the lives of Nigerian workers and open trade relations in the region.
Wabba indicated this position on the sidelines of the meeting of Labour Experts and General Assembly of the ECOWAS in Abuja, while speaking on the theme: “Strengthening Social Dialogue for the Promotion of Decent work in the ECOWAS region”>
He said the organised Labour were initially against Nigeria signing the agreement because there was no consultation; and noted that only Nigeria and South Africa carried out extensive consultation on the agreement, adding that the observations of organised labour have been reflected in the agreement.
According to him, part of observation is that goods to benefit from the trade agreement must be produced in Africa.
He said: “We were against it because there was no consultation and nobody even knew the content. I can say with nostalgia that it is only Nigeria and South Africa that did the type of consultation we did.
“Through our engagement process, there was dialogue, there was consultation with key stakeholders in the economy and we were able to identify way to improve and key into the Africa Continental free Trade Agreement and to have a comparative advantage.
“Part of what we agreed on is that those goods must be made in Africa, they must be goods we produce in Africa that will be used for the trade among ourselves.
“In the course of the dialogue, we found out that trade among African countries is less than 16 per cent. Therefore, it will be an advantage for African countries to trade among themselves than trading with other countries.”
Wabba said it was important for policies and programmes to protect the local market, noting that the agreement would help in promoting common tarrifs.
“With our population of about 200 million, you will be at the receiving end. Goods will be produced by your neighbour and flood your country because they have favourable employment policies, key investment opportunities like power and critical infrastructure.
“Critically, we said that our jobs must be protected, otherwise, our jobs will be taken away and the unemployment situation will continue.
“What we, organised labour are impressed with is actually the consultation process that went into the process. If policies are about the people, then they should be consulted and that is the hallmark of it.
“It was because we shouted that people started asking questions about the content of the agreement. So, how do we sign what we are not aware of? We don’t just join the bandwagon. Africa is about Nigeria. Some of those countries that signed earlier are less than local government in Nigeria.
“If Nigeria has not signed the agreement, it means Africa has not signed it because we are the largest economy in Africa and also the key market in Africa. What we are impressed with and have canvassed that all other policies should be tailored along is the consultations.
“We have also insisted that it should be made in Africa goods and it should be strictly trade among African countries and that you import goods from other parts of the world, dump them in one African country and begin to flood our market with the goods. That is not part of the agreement because it is going to affect our economy and we will be at the receiving end.”
On the strike alert already issued, he said the Congress has not issued any strike notice over the implementation of the new national minimum wage by the government.
“No, we don’t work with that please. NLC, as an organised body, I am not sure we have given any notice to that effect. If we reach a point of issuing threats, we will do that without hesitation.
“But I have seen many information on the social media, we are a credible organisation and we should be able to speak for ourselves.
“If we get to that point, we will be able to inform you, but for now, the process is going on and we have been able to expand the scope of dialogue to include NLC/TUC and only limited to the unions in the public sector”, the labour leader stated further.