52nd Annual National Conference Of The Chartered Institute Of Personnel Management

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I am honoured by the invitation from the President and Council of the Institute to join you at this 52nd Annual National Conference. Just as the president of the institution had said, this is my second conference of the CIPM, I was at the 50th conference and so being regular at these conferences makes me feel like I am, in some ways, a member of the CIPM.

This is a unique and historic conference and it is being held as a pandemic ravage the world, creating an unprecedented health and economic crisis. But this conference demonstrates the opportunity that this otherwise bleak situation provides. Here we are, at what must be the first virtual conference in the history of the institute, an extraordinary feat by itself, but the icing on the cake is that this virtual format allows more colleagues from all over Africa and the world to participate.

This is the paradox of the season we are in, a time of huge crisis but even bigger opportunities, which brings me to the topic I have been asked to make a few remarks on: “Nigeria and Manpower Preparedness for the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.”

The African Free Trade Agreement established Africa’s Single Liberalized Market for Trade in Goods and Services” and this will be the largest Free Trade Area (FTA) in the world. But unlike regional free trade agreements before it, this goes beyond trade in goods and services, it also covers intellectual property, competition policy and investments. It is a huge trade agreement and it is very innovative.

Practically every aspect of the agreement even from negotiations provided and still provides significant opportunities for manpower resources. So, at the negotiations of the free trade agreements, Nigeria put forward an A-team of negotiators, indeed the head of the Nigerian team, the late Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe was chosen by consensus of his African colleagues to chair the main intensive stages of the negotiations.

The late ambassador Osakwe was then the Director-General of the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations. The creation of the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN) was a deliberate decision by the Federal Government to change our approach to trade negotiations by ensuring that our participants and negotiators are top class individuals with technical knowledge and adequate preparation. It is imperative that Nigeria continues to lead on AfCFTA negotiations as we move into the second phase that will focus on intellectual property, competition policy and investment policy.

This will require the scaling up of our official negotiating capacities and the private sector must support this process by bringing its interests, concerns and understanding of the practical dynamics of international trade to the attention of government and by paying close attention to the negotiation process. It is important also for the private sector to understand that even in this process of negotiations, we tried to ensure that we bring in the practical dimensions of international trade by enabling the private sector to participate with us even at every stage of preparation for negotiations and at the negotiation table.

I should state however that building productive capacity is only the first step. The ability of our businesses and entrepreneurs to integrate successfully into the opportunities of the AfCFTA also depends a great deal on strengthening our domestic ability to facilitate trade. In other words, our logistics chains, port processes and customs procedures must be dynamic and efficient and it is obvious that the capacities of the operators and workers in these areas need to be rapidly upscaled through training including on the use of technologies. There is a whole area of training, as well as man power development that is required to competently engage with trade partners and with trade worldwide as important participants in AfCFTA.

This is why we are paying particular attention to the rapid implementation of the National Single Windows project which we expect to radically improve trade facilitation.

Given the size of our economy, it is also clear that Nigeria must play a leading role in the harmonization and integration of border management, regulatory cooperation and the formalization of informal cross-border trade in the continent. These actions are necessary to assist and support our MSMEs to be able to make use of the opportunities afforded us by the AfCFTA.

Another area in which we need to scale up manpower is in the use of AfCFTA provisions. We must not only understand the opportunities that arise from membership of the AfCFTA, we must also know what safeguards and trade remedies it provides against dumping, transshipment and other unfair trade practices.

In government, the National Office for Trade Negotiations has done substantial work on thinking about the national architecture of trade remedies and we expect the legal framework to be approved in the context of the work of the National Action Committee for the Implementation of the AfCFTA. This committee is co-chaired by the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment and the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning. It is imperative however for Nigerian businesses to also familiarise themselves with AfCFTA rules because they will have to assist in providing the evidence to trigger action on trade remedies by government.

Indeed, to be able to measure the impact of AfCFTA on the economy, including providing evidence on its benefits or on unfair trade practices, it is clear that we must strengthen domestic capacity to produce, disseminate and use reliable trade statistics.

Fortunately, the National Bureau of Statistics has been working on these issues and its work in this regard will no doubt be informed by the African Trade Observatory which is part and parcel of the architecture of the AfCFTA. The African Trade Observatory has been set up to be the main repository of African trade data to help overcome the poor quality of trade information in the continent. It is very evident that knowledge, knowledge, knowledge is going to be crucial in everything that we do. The private sector needs to develop sufficient knowledge in and around AfCFTA, in trade facilitation and follow closely with what is happening with the negotiations in their respective sectors, for example in the financial sector or manufacturing sector, what is important for us to take note of. The private sector must remain engaged in this because it is an important area to develop manpower resources to able to actively engage in this important space.

Ultimately, we will be able to make full use of the AfCFTA to stimulate domestic growth by undertaking smart investments in infrastructure, aligning our educational curriculum to prepare our youth to participate in the digital economy and imparting skills to improve their productivity. Nigeria is a crucial part of the global economy and we must prepare to participate actively in order to reap the gains from trade.

From the point of view of creating opportunities for Nigerian manpower, Nigeria is pushing for the implementation of complementary programmes and protocols including the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the Pan-African Payment Systems. These two protocols are very important in ensuring that we are able to benefit maximally from AfCFTA

Quite unlike the AfCFTA Agreement, the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons is not gathering the desired pace of ratifications perhaps because of the fear of migrants outcompeting nationals for jobs and the likely social tensions in recipient countries.

However, since the movement of persons is key for trade especially trade in services such as tourism, professional services then it stands to reason that the success of the AfCTFA in the medium term would require a faster rate of ratification and implementation of the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.

For Nigeria, this protocol on free movement of persons is crucial. We have comparative advantage in very skilled and competent personnel and these opportunities cannot be realized without the protocols being passed.

Similarly, the establishment of the Pan- African Payments and Settlement Platform by Afriexim bank will create the desired continental payments system and enable cross-border informal trade which is estimated to be about $93 billion per annum.

This is also a huge area of opportunity for our banks and FinTechs. We have perhaps the most robust financial services sector at least in sub Saharan Africa. We have the people and skills to benefit maximally from payment systems, what requires hardwork is in ensuring that these protocols are passed and we are able to take advantage of them. But also, free movement of talents across the continent will create greater competition, this means that talents must constantly up their game to remain valuable.

Mr. President, distinguished members of council and members of CIPM, it is reassuring that as the leading personnel management body in Nigeria, the CIPM has placed this very important issue of our preparedness to take advantage of the enormous opportunities in AfCFTA on its agenda and I do hope that you will share the ideas emanating from your discussions on this matter with government. It will be extremely useful for us, not only in honing our pathways as we negotiate the second phase of the agreement, but it will a contribute as we finalize work on the successor medium-term plan to the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

It is my special privilege and honour to declare open the 52nd Annual Conference of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria.

I wish you very excellent deliberations.

Thank you very much.