Nigeria is about to embark on a holistic review of all its trade and investment agreements entered into with countries and entities since 1960, BusinessDay has authoritatively gathered.
The review described as ‘root and branch’ by Chiedu Osakwe, who heads the Nigeria Office for Trade Negotiations, is geared towards updating and modernising such agreements and Memoranda of Understanding, (MoU) to benefit the ailing economy, and create jobs.
“The review focuses on all our trade and investment agreements from 1960 till date,” Osakwe told BusinessDay.
“It also dwells on reviews of all the memoranda of understanding that we have had on trade and investments; so that we can update, modernise them. It would also enable us to be sure that they carry net benefits for the Nigerian economy, in terms of improved dynamics, and also in terms of job creation.”
There have been calls for Nigeria to review its trade agreements and policies on concerns that over the years, they have not really yielded gains but have rather worked to the country’s disadvantage.
Nigeria is said to have entered into well over 550 trade agreements over the years and signed more than 100 trade policies just in the last decade. But experts say they have made little impact because the country lacks adequate capacity, unlike its other partners in these agreements.
“Nigeria is not really doing business with the world, but just trading,” an expert noted recently.
But Osakwe told BusinessDay that with the planned reviews, government wants to see trade and investment agreements that connect Nigerian producers and suppliers of services to global supply chains. “We have to be certain that investments in the Nigerian market provide a spur to the global market in partnerships with Nigerian producers and industrialists,” Osakwe added. He pointed out that, “The benefit is that investments and trade policies should not be handled in silos. They should not be handled in different compartments. Strategically and tactically, trade and investments are twin engines that fly the aeroplane of growth and development.”
Osakwe said that “in subsequent MoUs and trade agreements, we have to be certain that there are calculable benefits for jobs and creation of massive employment opportunities for growth, in ways that are connected to value chains.”
Commenting on the take-off time for the review, he said, “After the decision by the Federal Executive Council on 10th of May, the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiation was established, we are just putting up the physical office this week, and the staffers are settling into their offices. For now, we are working out agenda, writing up job descriptions, allocating responsibilities, after which we commence.”
BusinessDay findings show that Nigeria has no comprehensive database, nor inventory for all the trade agreements it has entered into, despite several road shows and tours often embarked on by the government, mostly across Europe and America and some industry watchers attribute the lacuna to the lack of a specialised trade negotiation office.
Osakwe acknowledged the lack of a database and explained that the Office of Trade Negotiations will first commence by building a database, inventory of all trade agreements entered into, while also establishing a register of all the trade and trade related agreements and memoranda entered into by the Nigerian government.
“The actions we are about embarking on are comparable to the situation we had many years ago, before Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala ,the former Coordinating Minister of the economy established a comprehensive debt register for the country. Recall, we did not have a debt register prior to the time she did that. So, we want to have a comparable thing in the area of Trade. We have agreements and trade scattered, all over, and it is time to have a data bank, “Osakwe explained.
Franklin Akinsoloye, President, Association of Business Development Service Professionals and a National Quality Expert for the United Nation’s Industrial Development Organisation, (UNIDO) says the planned review is a step in the right direction.
“It is never late that the Nigerian government is thinking in this light, since several of the trade agreements Nigeria signed with many countries are disadvantageous,” Akinsoloye told BusinessDay. He remarked that the Nigerian government must approach trade negotiations with the dexterity it requires, while negotiating from a position of strength.
“Take for instance, the African Growth Opportunity Act, (AGOA) agreement with entered into with the Americans. It benefits them more than it does to us, because of certain stringent terms and agreements that we often are not able to meet. The government must take a look at all these in the review process”
He further suggested to the Federal Government’s review body to ensure that the Federal Ministry of Finance owns an investment company that should own some unit shares in the companies coming into the country, as he notes that the step would ensure government looks into the books and other procedures of such companies to evaluate impact in Nigerian economy.
“A certain percentage of any company seeking to invest and trade in Nigeria must have Nigerians both skilled and unskilled people to be part of the company for direct impact to the Nigerian economy, “he suggested. The Federal Government, on concerns of plummeting oil revenue resources ,says it is implementing structural reforms on trade and investment, to aid required growth and development.
Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Okechukwu Enelemah, said such reforms like the ratification of Nigeria’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, would also open new vistas in Nigeria’s trade and investment drive.
The benefits include making it easier for trade deals to occur between nation’s and eliminating all forms of barriers of trade inflows into the country, in addition to increasing the volume of goods and services for exports.
The ratified Trade Facilitation Agreement, which the government membarked on earlier in the year in Davos Switszerland, also sets out measures for effective cooperation between Customs and other appropriate authorities on Trade Facilitation and Customs compliance issues.
HARRISON EDEH, Abuja