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Senate stakeholders debate benefits of ECOWAS trade protocols

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• NANTS Cautions Against Rushed Action, Wants Hiccups Tackled
• Nigeria Benefitting Immensely, Says Regional Body

The Senate Committee on Customs has continually made a case for the country to opt out of the Economic Community of West African States , a development that would mean Nigeria’s “technical exit” from ECOWAS.

In what it described as an “abuse of customs’ tariff and indiscriminate issuance of fiscal policies,” the committee headed by Senator Hope Uzodinma, recently maintained that the country needs to protect her national interest, especially now that efforts were ongoing towards rebuilding the country’s economy.

The committee’s position notwithstanding, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the upper chamber of the National Assembly is still open to dialogue on ways of making these trade instruments work positively for Nigeria, especially now that the country is foraying into industrialisation, adding that the proper implementation of the instruments would go a long way in promoting and launching Nigerian manufacturers and producers into the regional markets.

At a meeting with the committee in Abuja recently, the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), insisted that pulling out of the protocol would translate to throwing the baby away with the bath water.

The association agreed that even though there were challenges with the instruments, there exist numerous ways through which its members can benefit from the protocols.

Highlighting the already seen benefits of the instruments, which are anchored on free movement of persons, goods and services, president of the association, Ken Ukaoha, claimed that Nigerian companies are expanding and dominating the sub-region’s market.

His words: “Nigerian banks have literarily taken over the streets of many countries in West Africa.  Globacom is speedily rolling into many countries in West Africa, Nigerian brands such as UAC, PZ, Cadbury, Dangote etc., are found along the border routes and on the streets of our neighbouring countries, while agro products such as grains and tubers form major imports of countries across West Africa, particularly the Sahel area.”

He suggested that rather than blame others for the hiccups in the instruments, Nigeria should look inwards and put its house in order.

For instance, he said the ETLS Committee domiciled in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has no business being there, rather, it should be in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.

ECOWAS Director of Customs, Salifou Tiemtore, in his remarks attributed the misconception about the instruments to misinformation, adding that the commission would be willing to educate the Senate on the instruments, if it so desire.

For him, Nigeria remains the country that has benefitted most from the instruments, as goods from the country are seen in all West African countries, including Francophone countries, whereas, the same cannot be said of goods produced in those countries in Nigerian markets.

“If you go to Wuse Market now, from the beginning to the end, I bet you will not see any good from Burkina Faso, or Cote d’Ivoire, but go to these countries and other West African countries, you will think you are in Nigeria, as goods from the country are everywhere; they dominate everywhere.  Other countries are into these instruments because of Nigeria. So if Nigeria pulls out, they will have no reason to be there.  But I tell you, Nigeria is the one country benefiting the most from these protocols.”

For some strange reasons, the Senate committee chair had blamed the exit of companies like Michelin, Cadbury, UAC and others from the country on the ECOWAS protocols, but the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other stakeholders refuted the claim, reminding Uzodima that these companies had long departed before the protocols came into existence.

They added that the overriding factor for their exit was lack of electricity to run their high capacity equipment.

The lawmaker also blamed the infiltration of foreign rice into the country through the borders on the instruments, but again stakeholders were quick to slam that, and instead blamed same on the lack of capacity by the Nigerian Customs Services, which is saddled with the responsibility of checking what comes into the country.

The former Head of State of Republic of Niger, and president of the task force on ETLS, General Salou Djibo, said the seven-member task force for the instruments drawn from Nigeria and other member states, would monitor the effectiveness of the protocol, adding that it would also be on a fact finding mission, as well as, go all out to step up advocacy.



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