S'Africa Nigeria tidy trade ties, free entry for nationals
By Oghogho Obayuwana
|Nigerian FAM, Aishiru|
The Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Working Group of the BNC spent much of its time yesterday to perfect the document so that the countries' foreign ministers and co-chairs of the commission could sign it before the session winds up tomorrow.
In view of their pre-eminent positions on the continent, relations between Nigeria and South Africa are regarded as strategic by diplomats and investment facilitators.
The draft agreement on waivers of visas for holders of diplomatic and official passports had only been partially acceded to by South Africa when the country's officials settled for a three-year waiver after the last BNC in 2008. But the implementation committee, which is the engine room, has met twice after that session.
The current BNC is however meant to resolve all outstanding issues after the recent row between the two countries over yellow fever card. Prior to the current meeting, collaborations between the two countries through the BNC have never gone beyond signature on documents that end up in the shelves.
Visa waivers, brings back memories of the old order in the Commonwealth of Nations when citizens of member-countries did not require visas to enter Great Britain.
The other working groups, which broke into sessions yesterday, included those on Trade and Finance, Defence and Security, Agriculture, Water Resources and Environment, Minerals and Energy, Public Enterprises and Infrastructure as well as Social and Technical.
In his defence of the visa waiver quest, the Director, Africa Bilateral Affairs Department (ABAD) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Olabode Adekeye, said: "Nigeria and South Africa do need an arrangement that facilitates the work that the BNC sets out to achieve in terms of better collaboration and economic empowerment of citizens of our country."
Adekeye was responding to the opening speech of the South African Deputy Director-General, Africa Bilateral, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Ambassador Gladys Sonto Kudjoe.
Adekeye also told The Guardian that, "the waiver is only meant to be a first step in the eventual scheme of things. The Ideal destination is a no visa provision.
"If we are to facilitate trade and investments, if we are to cooperate at the desired level of bilateral relations, there is the need to remove all impediments to the movement of facilitators and agents and promoters of economic relations. Once this is done, the rest is made easier. We can do without the current restrictive immigration requirements considering the level that the two countries want to operate with our BNC."
Both the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Kingsley Mamabolo and his Nigerian counterpart at the Mission in Pretoria, Ambassador Sunni Yusuf, who were on hand yesterday, expressed the hope that delegates and senior officials working on the desired BNC would exert strictly within the themes of the revised agenda and ensure that the document that will be signed at the current session meets the expectations of both nations.
But, negotiations on aviation matters were knocked off the agenda yesterday due to the absence of the working groups in that sector. The Guardian learnt that their all-important session had been shifted till next month.
The draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on geology, mining and mineral processing, already submitted to the South African side will be negotiated during the BNC while the draft on military cooperation is being expected from the South Africa for negotiation before the session winds up.
Although the balance of trade is in Nigeria's favour because of the huge volume of its oil being imported by South Africa, which outweighs the funds repatriated by major South African firms operating in Nigeria, the Federal Government is yet to match the close to 100 South African companies operating in Nigeria. South Africa is accused of having unfriendly investment laws seemingly targeted at Nigerian businesses and investors.
The issue will however be tabled during the BNC with inputs from the business group.
On one of the expected fruits of the BNC (specific Aviation Working Group in June), Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru, said: "The Nigeria-South Africa Bi-National Commission is being resuscitated to further strengthen relations between the two countries. The expected outcome of the renegotiated BNC agreement include the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA), which has been reviewed, seeking an increase in frequency of flights and to open new routes between the two countries."
Ashiru, who was Nigeria's former High Commissioner to South Africa, added: "In the BNC, South African Airways would be able to fly to Lagos and Abuja. Two Nigerian Airlines flying to South Africa could land either in Johannesburg or Cape Town. Other agreements and issues of cooperation are meant to further strengthen our existing relations. When you look at areas such as agriculture, communications, defence, energy, environment, health, justice, mineral resources, police affairs and law enforcement, science and technology, and trade, industry and investment, one cannot be Isolated from another in synergistic terms."
Many of the estimated 1.5 million Nigerians in South Africa are said to be profiled by the host authorities. Analysts and international relations experts have variously described the action as a skewed perception of Nigerians, which is different from the official government policy.
The working groups that started work yesterday at the Pavilion Conference Centre are expected to report back to the plenary in order to produce agreed minutes and implementation plan.
from Oghogho Obayuwana, Cape Town, South Africa