BY FELIX KASSIM
Nigeria has kick-started a negotiation aimed at reaching a well accepted format in the liberalisation of priority service sectors to meet the demands of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
The discussion which is being midwifed by the Nigeria Office of Trade Negotiations (NOTN) on Monday attracted key stakeholders and private sector operators who brainstormed on the draft nation’s Specific Commitments for Trade in Services under AfCFTA.
Speaking at the stakeholders meeting in Abuja, acting Director General of NOTN, Mr Victor Liman, said the move became necessary to get relevant inputs from industry players on the liberalisation of services sectors in accordance with the tenet of the continental trade pact.
Liman, who listed the priority service sectors for liberalisation as financial, communications, transport, tourism and professional business service sectors, said decision reached in the meeting would be processed as Nigeria’s position on Specific Commitments for Trade in Services and forwarded for harmonisation into a single schedule by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
His words: “We are currently negotiating the schedule of Specific Commitments for Trade In Services, and what that means is that we have to present the final outcome of this consultation at the ECOWAS which will then be harmonised by other member states schedules.
“From that harmonisation, we will then produce one single undifferentiated schedule of specific commitment for trade in services which will then be sent to AfCFTA secretariat for further negotiation and harmonisation.
“At this first stage, we have decided to liberalise the five key sectors; professional business services, financial services, transport services, tourism services and communication services. What you saw today is professional business services engagement, particularly with the private sector.”
While saying that Nigeria stands to gain a lot by rectifying the AfCFTA, Liman said the country only needs to improve on infrastructures and up the available skills in order to prepare for the competition.
“I believe if we liberalise further and take advantage of the AfCFTA agreement we will be able to derive the benefit there-from job creation, GDP growth, productivity and growth of the manufacturing sector, among others.
“In terms of AfCFTA implementation, a lot of things still remain to be done in terms of infrastructure, readiness to allow good and service to flow in without tariffs, competitiveness. However, that do not constitute any form impediment on the need for Nigeria to rectify it.”
Secretary General of Abuja’s MoU on Port State Control for West/Central Africa, Mrs Mfon Ekong Usoro, who moderated the brainstorming session of the meeting, commended NOTN for aggregating the inputs of all relevant stakeholders in the trade in services negotiation.
“We are very pleased with NOTN in the approach they have taken and the industry players are really appreciated,” she said.
Representatives of various professional groups and government agencies including; Nigerian Medical and Dental Council, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Labour Congress, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Nigerian Bar Association, Budget Office, among several others attended the meeting.
Recall that AfCFTA came into force in May 2019, and member states have fixed July 2020 for the full operationalisation of the pact.