The Federal Government has declined to sign the trade liberalisation agreement being pushed forward by the European Union, under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Economic Community Of West African States(ECOWAS),after due consideration of its impact on the economy.
The government had earlier expressed reservations over the pact,due to vital clauses in it that could be harmful to the nation’s economy.
The Minister of Trade,Industry and Investments,Olusegun Aganga explained during a working lunch in honour of the Director-General, United Nations Industrial Development Organsation (UNIDO), Li Yong, that certain provisions of the agreement, which Nigeria was expected to sign at the ECOWAS Heads of States meeting in Yamoussoukro, Cote D’Ivoire, last week, were not in the overall best interest of the country’s economy.
Under the EPA, the European Union(EU) wsa expected to immediately offer the 15-member ECOWAS and non-member state Mauritania full access to its markets. In return, ECOWAS will gradually open up 75 per cent of its markets, with its 300 million consumers, to Europe over a 20-year period.
Technical negotiations even wrapped up last month with the EU offering a 6.5 billion euro (about $8.94 billion) package over the next five years to help ECOWAS cushion the effects and costs of integrating into the global economy.
The ECOWAS countries involved in the deal included Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Niger and Togo.
But Aganga pointed out that “the EPA agreement was not even ready for endorsement by the Heads of State and Government. During the meeting last week, Nigeria raised 10 objections to what was presented to us and the Summit of Heads of State ratified it.
“Consequently, a committee from Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire , Ghana and Senegal looked at the issues raised by member states, particularly Nigeria, and came up with a proposal. When we went into the meeting, the whole idea was to endorse it, but of course, we had various reservations concerning the agreement based on our model and the feedback we got from our private sector.”
He added: “One major reservation was that the way the agreement was done, which of course they expected us to sign, would not be in the overall interest of the Nigerian economy over the long term. For instance, in the area of market access, the EU wants us to open our market by 75 per cent over a 20-year period.
“This appears harmless because over the first five years, there will be no major impact because they will open all their doors for us to export to Europe. However, the problem here is that currently, we are not exporting much to Europe and so the benefit will not be significant.”
The minister explained that, given Nigeria’s current condition as an import-dependent economy, it would be counter-productive to completely open its doors for imports without first of all developing its industrial sector to compete globally, especially in those sectors where the country has comparative and competitive advantage as provided in the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan recently launched by President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Another major point we raised was that those items that were in Category D, and excluded in the 25 per cent, should include those areas and sectors that we want to develop in line with the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan. Some of those areas are already under Category C and D, meaning that they are the sectors that the EU wants us to liberalise imports. If we do that, it will have a very negative impact on the NIRP.
“Nigeria is the biggest country in the ECOWAS and we are already producing some of those goods that they want us to liberalise their importation. Also, what this means is that, not now, but from 2025 to 2026, based on the items that have been included and excluded, there will be significant loss of revenue to the government. There will be loss of jobs, investment and loss of even the ECOWAS market,”he said.
Aganga, however, stressed that it was important to remain as one unit in the ECOWAS region, saying that “even if they import those items into our neighbouring countries, they will end up in Nigeria and this will have negative impact on the Nigerian economy. So, it is important for us to work together as ECOWAS members and not to allow EPA to divide us.”
Speaking during the event, Yong pledged UNIDO’s unflinching support towards the growth and development of Nigeria’s industrial sector in line with the organisation’s inclusive and sustainable industrial development programme.