Members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) are literarily up in arms against moves by Morocco to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). They insist that Nigeria must not allow the North African country?s admission into the regional body, arguing that doing so will be tantamount to signing the European Union (EU) sponsored Economic Partnership Agreement through the back door, which they say will hurt the industrial sector and the economy. Assistant Editor OKWY IROEGBU-CHIKEZIE looks at issues agitating OPS members? minds.
groundswell of opposition has continued to trail Morocco?s application to become a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Leading the campaign to halt the North African country?s admittance into the regional organisation are members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS), particularly Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN).
The Association has been literarily up in arms against Morocco?s bid to join the 15-member organisation, arguing that it will not be in Nigeria?s interest as it will hurt the industrial sector and by extension, the economy. The OPS has since then mounted intense pressure on the Federal Government not to allow Morocco to be part of ECOWAS.
At their meeting in Liberia, sometime in June last year, ECOWAS leaders were said to have agreed in principle to consider Morocco?s request to become a member of the regional trade bloc. But the potential membership of the North African country has not gone down well with the OPS, which has continued to advance several reasons Nigeria must be vehemently opposed to the move.
MAN President Dr. Frank Udemba Jacobs, who has been most vociferous in the OPS campaign to halt Morocco?s potential membership of the regional gruop, noted for instance, that by reason of its geographical location, Morocco does not qualify to be admitted into the group. Besides, its trade agreement with the European Union (EU) makes it harmful to allow her join the regional body.
Jacobs specifically said information available to MAN showed that a trade agreement exists between Morocco and the EU. This, according to him, meant that if Morocco is allowed to join ECOWAS, products that come into Morocco from the EU will end up in Nigeria. This is so because Nigeria is the biggest market amongst the 15-menber countries in ECOWAS.
The MAN president, therefore, noted that by extension, admitting Morocco into ECOWAS will be equivalent to signing the controversial Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between ECOWAS and the EU through the back door. This, he said, will negatively affect the country?s economy as locally manufactured goods will find it extremely difficult to compete with imported products from the EU.
It would be recalled that the OPS and other concerned individuals have been warning Nigeria to resist EU?s pressure to sign the EPA, which, according to them, will be counter-productive. To them, it will leave Nigeria, especially operators in the industrial sector, holding the short end of the stick. They also argued that endorsing the EPA deal will hurt Nigeria?s industrialisation and job creation drive.
Under the EPA terms, which triggered OPS? suspicions, the EU will immediately offer ECOWAS 15-member countries full access to its markets. In return, ECOWAS will gradually open up 75 per cent of its markets, with its 300 million consumers, to the EU over a 20-year period.
According to OPS, that was not all as the EU will also offer a package valued at about Euros 6.5 billion ($8.94 billion) over the next five years, to help ECOWAS countries cushion the effects and costs of integrating into the global economy. Despite dangling the proverbial carrot, the OPS had kicked its heels in, insisting that the proposed agreement was a union of unequal partners.
They have consistently warned that signing the agreement in its present form will undermine Nigeria?s industrial sector. They specifically argued that it will impact negatively on local manufacturing and result in shutdown of industries with heavy job losses as a result of unfair competition that will follow.
To Jacobs and indeed, other real sector operators, Morocco?s alleged surreptitious move to join the ECOWAS and the EU?s push to get Nigeria endorse the EPA, are two sides of the same coin. Admitting Morocco into ECOWAS, they argued, will give the EU, which already enjoys unfettered access into the North African region, unfettered access to the Nigerian market and probably make it a dumping ground.
?We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to vehemently oppose the move as it would spell doom to the productive sector of the economy. We are vehemently opposed to Morocco being admitted into the ECOWAS. It will really affect us badly. So, we are telling our government not to allow them become part of ECOWAS,? the MAN said, in a statement.
OPS members are not only in the campaign against Morocco. The Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) is also kicking. The group went a notch higher, calling on the government to resist any attempt by other member countries of ECOWAS to admit Morocco into the regional body.
ARCAN founding Chairman and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Ignatius C. Olisemeka, noted that Morocco, by reason of its geographical location, does not qualify to be admitted into the regional organisation.
He warned that Morocco?s motive was political and aimed at whittling down Nigeria?s strength for her role in the admission of Western Sahara into the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now AU. He, also wondered why the Federal Government has so far not engaged in a vigorous campaign against Morocco?s move, stressing that the government owes Nigerians an explanation.
The group did not stop there. ARCAN also said Morocco?s admission in principle, if true, would have been one of the most humiliating and lowest points in Nigeria?s foreign policy since independence. It argued that admitting Morocco into ECOWAS would mark the end of the regional bloc, as a new name would be introduced to accommodate countries beyond the border of West Africa.
Similarly, another group known as the Nigerian Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara is also opposed to Morocco?s admission into ECOWAS. The group said the 15-member nation has little in common with the North African kingdom, especially as it maintains a grip on Western Sahara.
The group?s convener, Mr. Dipo Fashina, said in a statement that the move by Morocco to join ECOWAS was a direct challenge to Nigeria?s leadership in the sub-region. He, therefore, advised that Nigeria must rise to the occasion and ensure that Morocco?s application for membership is rejected.
Others reasons for OPS?s opposition
According to OPS, the ECOWAS region has overtime metamorphosed into a Free Trade Area (FTA) for the 15-member states through the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS). The thinking is that any other non-Western African country joining the community will unduly benefit from the existing free trade in the region.
Besides, ECOWAS? treaty, which promotes the reign of a democratically elected president in all member states with a maximum of two terms by interpretation, has no room for monarchical system of government, which Morocco practises.
Also, based on trend analysis, ECOWAS has little trade benefit expectations from Morocco. The historical trade pattern relations of Morocco revealed no notable trading ties with ECOWAS states.
Going by her current demand pattern, Morocco trades with Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Russia, Algeria and the EU. All of these imply that over the years, Morocco has little or no trade dealings with ECOWAS states.
There are also those who argued that Morocco?s memberships of numerous economic blocs pose serious loyalty question. This is because Morocco belongs to the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), an associate country of EU, Arab League and the Union for the Mediterranean.
The Union for the Mediterranean comprises 28 countries from the EU. This means that granting Morocco ECOWAS membership will afford 28 countries from the EU free access into the regional market, thereby flooding the market with EU products.
As far as the OPS is concerned, this will be a decoy that will weaken Nigeria?s stance on the ECOWAS-EU EPA, inhibit Nigerian diversification drive and stifle the growth of the manufacturing sector through exploitation of Nigerian and the ECOWAS market.
These perhaps, explain why OPS members are unimpressed by Morocco?s promise to build infrastructure if admitted into the ECOWAS. As far as they are concerned, the North African country is not economically viable to make good its promise.
For one, the country?s unemployment level and debt-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio of 64.7 per cent as contained in the 2016 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report are said to be at variance with the IMF?s benchmark of 40 per cent for developing and emerging economies.
Besides, those opposed to its membership of the ECOWAS argued that the Moroccan economy is not industrialised. They, therefore, wondered where it hopes to get industrial goods to trade with the ECOWAS. To them, Morocco only wants to further EU?s interest by becoming a strategic channel for pushing EU goods, which Nigeria is currently challenging, through the back door.
Nigeria yet to make up its mind on Morocco
Despite the agitation against Morocco?s admittance into the ECOWAS, the Federal Government said it has not made up its mind on the knotty issue. Minister of State for Commerce, Industry, Trade & Investment, Hajia Aisha Abubakar, said the government will in due course make its position known on it.
The Minister, however, pledged that the government remained poised towards protecting indigenous manufacturers. But it remains to be seen whether such commitment to protect indigenous manufacturers will mean putting its foot down to stop Morocco?s entrance into the ECOWAS.