By Lawrence Olaoye
President Muhammadu Buhari has cautioned members of the Commonwealth of Nations to avoid trade wars in order to make business easier among the member countries.
According to a statement made available to newsmen yesterday by his Spokesman, Femi Adesina, Buhari gave the counsel while delivering his keynote address at the Commonwealth Business Forum at Guildhall, London.
Buhari said , Provision of a platform for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) ; A radical expansion of human capital for the 21st Century, what is now known as “Knowledge Economy”; and Provision of hard and software infrastructure for the 21st Century Digital Economy to boost e-commerce, increase efficiency, solve development problems and enhance cyber security, are other factors necessary for an easier business environment.
The Nigerian leader emphasized the need for a healthier business relationship among countries: “But if we are to make business easier between our countries and going beyond the Commonwealth, we must avoid trade wars and work collectively to preserve the global trading order, support regional initiatives as well as support domestic structural reforms that focus on the priorities of individual countries.
He identified Trade and Investment Facilitation to generate resources for sustainable development; Ease of Doing Business and Regional Integration that expands markets with safeguards against injurious trade practices from third parties; More Inclusive Growth with the empowerment of women and the youth, as factors that are capable of making business among Commonwealth countries easier.
The Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) with the subject “Making Business Easier between Commonwealth Countries” is part of events at this year’s Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting, CHOGM- 25.
The President said Nigeria had already started championing this course with events such as the “High-Level Trade and Investment Facilitation Forum for Development” convened by Nigeria in November 2017 in Abuja in partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS):
“The Abuja Statement from this Forum: “Deepening Africa’s Integration in the Global Economy through Trade and Investment Facilitation for Development,” has become a global and multilateral reference point. We believe that the Commonwealth should lend its support to these types of activities, as a sound model, for Making Business Easier Amongst Commonwealth Countries.
“To underscore Nigeria’s commitment to spreading prosperity throughout the Commonwealth, in the past 6 months, Nigeria Co-Chaired with the United Kingdom, the “UK All-Parliamentary Group for Trade out of Poverty” (APPG-TOP). The Report of this Commonwealth Inquiry Report was launched on 3rd April, 2018.
“Nigeria affirms its commitment to the principal message from this Commonwealth Inquiry Group that Nigeria co-chaired with the UK. The surest, most sustainable way to lift millions of people out of poverty across the Commonwealth is through boosting trade and investment. We believe that, we, as Leaders in the Commonwealth, should grasp the opportunity and agree a major new focus on trade and investment for inclusive development.”
He also shared the experiences of Nigeria regarding on-going deep and extensive ‘ease of doing business’ reforms which are being staged under a 60-day National Action Plan.
According to him, “Stage 1 focuses on eight areas that make it easier to register businesses, obtain construction permits, get credit, pay taxes, have electricity, trade across borders, facilitate entry and exit of people and register property. These reforms were codified in an Executive Order. Transparency and efficiency across government was mandated and made enforceable. These reforms have resulted in improvements: reduction in cost and time and greater transparency particularly for micro- small and medium sized enterprises.
“Stage 2 is focused on 11 areas, improving on Stage 1. This stage also covers new areas, including contract enforcement, simplifying the procurement process, and trading within Nigeria. Action in this and subsequent stages will revolve inter alia, around reputational issues.”
The President said these efforts have been acknowledged as evidenced in the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ Report published in November last year, which moved Nigeria up 24 places and recognized the country as one of the top 10 most improved economies in the world. He however said more work needs to be done as we enter the next stage.
President Buhari noted that, “In developing countries, labour and industry are concerned about distortions in trade policies that result in subsidised products which have contributed to exports dumped in developing economies. These have had bad effects in the form of job losses.
“Growth is not yet inclusive and remains elusive. There are downside risks about disruptions to trade and investment. Global and regional markets have been considerably rattled by the risks of trade wars. Concerns over climate change are unabated and are increasing. There are tasks and duties on all sides.”
He reiterated his belief in wealth creation and employment opportunities within the Commonwealth: “If there is a collective Commonwealth Commitment to the Ease of Doing Business, we shall spur growth, multiply wealth and expand employment opportunities. These objectives will be accelerated by trade and investment facilitation.”
President Buhari used the opportunity to call on the Commonwealth Business Forum and prospective investors in the Nigerian economy, to participate in the 2018 “UK/Nigeria Trade and Investment Forum” at the London Stock Exchange.