President Muhammadu Buhari, on Saturday has said that he cannot sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) without consulting with all stakeholders considering the complexity of Nigeria’s environment.
The trade agreement is expected to increase intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent from the current 19 per cent. The CFTA identifies seven priority action clusters for its implementation. They are trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade-related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor market integration.
The Federal Executive Council had, on March 14, approved that Nigeria should sign the framework agreement for the establishment of the initiative.
President Buhari opted out of the African Union meeting where the pact would be signed by 55 African countries. Already, 44 African countries had endorsed the agreement which would enable them to form a $3tn continental free-trade zone encompassing 1.2 billion people.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 25th General meeting of shareholders of African Export-Import Bank in Abuja, Buhari said with a country as big as Nigeria with a population size of about 200 million people, there was a need to carry all stakeholders along in the process of entering such a pact.
According to Buhari, “In Africa, Nigeria has a very unique role to play. We are a vast nation of nearly 200 million people with diverse language, culture and natural endowment and aspirations.
“What we all have in common at all levels is that Nigeria is a trading nation, no nation can survive on its own.
“Trading is important and the terms of trade are important. Therefore, there is a need to ensure our national interest as well as our regional and international obligations are balanced.
“Accordingly, I have directed the relevant agencies to conduct intensive and extensive consultations across the nation on the Continental Free Trade Agreement.
“Nigeria is a federation of 36 states plus Federal Capital Territory Abuja, 774 Local Governments and millions of interested stakeholders who must be consulted with and listened to in order to ensure an optimal outcome.
“Significant progress has been made with these consultations. The team has met key stakeholders across our six geopolitical zones; the responses are diverse as should be expected.
“However, one clear message has emerged which is that any agreement must be both free and fair.” The President explained that Africa’s drive for prosperity could only be achieved by supporting inclusive and sustainable projects.
Buhari said his administration had adopted a policy of inclusive growth, adding that his government was determined to achieve this by reducing the country’s over reliance on crude oil.
“Till date, we have invested aggressively in infrastructure to support our growth potential in agriculture and solid minerals.
“We are also empowering many Nigerian entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry to mention a few,” he added.