By Rafiu Ajakaye
Nigeria has officially put off signing the framework agreement for establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) following protests by major labor unions which warned that the deal would harm the local economy.
The country's foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement Sunday night that President Muhammadu Buhari has cancelled his trip to the Rwandan capital Kigali where African heads of state were scheduled to ink the agreement this week.
“President Buhari has cancelled his trip to Kigali, Rwanda, to attend an Extra-Ordinary Summit of the African Union on Tuesday, March 21, to sign the framework agreement for establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area,” according to the statement by Tope Elias-Fatile, the foreign ministry spokesman.
“This is to allow more time for input from Nigerian stakeholders,” it added.
The Nigerian federal cabinet last week approved the signing of the deal which it said would boost the country's export, “spur growth and boost job creation as well as eliminate barriers against Nigeria’s products and provide a Dispute Settlement Mechanism for stopping the hostile and discriminatory treatment directed against Nigerian natural and corporate business persons in other African countries.”
ACFTA, a brainchild of the African Union to deepen regional integration, had been in the works since January 2012 -- with Nigeria as one of its major promoters. However, local labor unions and big corporations have always been against it.
Last week, Nigeria’s trade and investment minister Okechukwu Enelamah acknowledged the continuous opposition to the deal but he added that efforts were afoot to get the buy-in of all the stakeholders ahead of the signing.