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Airline operators caution FG against signing proposed free trade treaty for Africa


Africa. Photo credit: Google

Airline operators and investors yesterday urged the Federal Government to exercise caution in signing and implementing a free trade policy with other African countries, otherwise called the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Treaty.

The free trade treaty, due to be signed by African Heads of State on March 21 and 22, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, is a flagship project of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and it is aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments across the signatory countries.

The airline operators, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), are wary of alleged haste by the Federal Government in signing the treaty without first allowing experts, investors, industrialists and operators to review the comparative gains and implications of such treaty.

Chairman of AON, Captain Nogie Meggison, who spoke with journalists in Lagos, said without due diligence “that puts Nigeria first”, the free trade initiative would go the way of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) recently signed with 22 African countries “without plans on how it will benefit Nigeria.”

He warned that Nigeria could not afford to rush into signing AfCFTA treaty allegedly aimed at giving unfettered access into the Nigerian market, adding that the treaty is more likely to erode the efforts of the government at diversifying the economy and reverse the gains of the present administration in reviving the economy out of recession.

According to Meggison: “The basic issue of visa free movement of people and trade is an integral aspect of SAATM and AfCFTA that will go a long way to determine the fairness of the project.

“Sadly, it is a well-known fact that it is a herculean task for Nigerians to get visas to travel to many African countries. Nigerians require over 34 visas to travel within Africa alone. This is an issue that needs to be addressed first before the full implementation of SAATM or the signing of AfCFTA.

“For instance, a country like Ethiopia, which is a strong pusher of this treaty, makes 45 per cent of its income from Nigeria. Yet, it has not employed Nigerians as aircrew or ground technical members of staff.”

Besides, Secretary of the association, Ewos Iroro, noted that while the initiative is a laudable idea and could be considered as a step in the right direction, the timing is not right as there are several unresolved issues.

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