Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President and the running mate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate said that the APC led federal government was consulting with key stakeholders before signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Osinbajo stated this on Friday in Abuja while answering questions at the 2019 Presidential election debate organised by the Nigerian Election Debates Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) for the vice president.
He said what the APC government was doing was to ensure that all loopholes that would make the agreement have negative impacts on the country were blocked before signing it.
Osinbajo said that though the agreement was important, the chief fear about it was the Possibility of transhipment, saying for example China can ship its goods to Benin Republic and import to Nigeria under a free trade agreement.
“So we can have a situation where local industry is killed just by the mere fact that we signed on to this without ensuring that all of the loopholes have been blocked. So we are in the process of ensuring that all of the loopholes are blocked.
Osinbajo said that the key stakeholders in the private sector including Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and other business bodies were against the agreement but government was consulting with them.
“We are a private sector driven economy. We cannot say because we are involved in the process, we should just go ahead and sign it.
“It is our duty as a responsible government to make sure that we take into account all of the different issues that are involved before we sign.
“ There is no need for hurrying into signing the agreement. We must make sure we cover all our basis before we sign.‘’
On his part, the Peoples Democratic Party Presidential (PDP) Candidate running mate, Mr Peter Obi said there was nothing to fear about signing the policy if necessary things had been put in place.
Obi said it was going to be win-win for Nigeria if the agreement is signed, saying there is no way the country could be part of preparing the policy and back out at the signing stage.
He said that Nigeria has the market, the population and everything it takes to benefit from the trade agreement and not just depending on oil for foreign exchange earnings.
“If we sign it today it is going to be a win-win for us. Other countries that don’t have oil, are deriving their foreign exchange earnings from manufacturing.
“You have to look into the agreement fix those things we are not doing well here, put them in place and sign that agreement because it is going to be a win-win for us.’’
He was of the view that consultation should not be now but when the agreement was being formulated.
However, Osinbajo reminded Obi that negotiations for the trade agreement began in the PDP era and they also ought to have done a lot of consultation.
The Vice Presidential Candidate of the Alliance for New Nigerian (ANN), Kadijat Abdullahi-Iya, agreed that the country must study the impact of the trade agreement on the Nigerian economy before signing.
“We have to look at how the agreement affects the common man on the streets, how many employment it creates.
“We have to look at how it will boost the industries, we are looking at diversification, how will it affect our Gross Domestic Products (GDP). These are the things we must look into.
The Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) Ganiyu Galadima, commended the Federal Government for not signing the agreement because many thing were not working well in the Nigerian economy.
“Any agreement that we sign that will turn Nigeria into dumping ground for goods from other countries and cripple our local industries will not be in the interest of the country.’’
“I think the proper thing for the government is to put signing of the agreement on hold until the economy of the country improved and manufacturing industry is revived’’
The Vice Presidential Candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) , Umma Getso also said that signing the agreement with the current situation of the country would not be a wise decision.
Getso said the trade agreement would be favourable to Nigeria when the country was strong in terms of production and not when it was importing goods.