By: Paul OLELE
The United States Chamber of Commerce, American Business Council Nigeria and U.S Department of Commerce organized a commercial and investment dialogue (CID) between the United States and Nigeria, which took place at the United States Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday February 4th in Washington, D.C.
The conception for this event had been in the works for over two years, when the U.S Department of Commerce and Nigeria’s ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (MITI) announced a bilateral policy in November 2017 that focused on trade and investment between both countries.
The goal for the CID was not to only strengthen the ties of trade and investment between the United States and Nigeria, but to also include policy makers and members of the private sector with the focus of ameliorating the business climate in Nigeria.
In attendance were were Hon. Karen Dunn Kelley, Deputy Secretary of Commerce, U.S Department of Commerce, Hon. Richard Adebayo, Nigerian Minister for the Industry, Trade and Investment, Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylvia, Scott Eisner, President of U.S Africa Business Center, U.S Chamber of Commerce, Joseph C. Semsar, Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade, International Trade Administration (ITA) and Yewande Sadiku, Executive Secretary and CEO, Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC).
The center of focus at the CID ranged from problems and opportunities within the infrastructural, agricultural, digital economical, investment & regulatory reform sector.
Kimberly Clark represented the private sector lead on the American side, while the private sector on the Nigerian side was represented by Wale Tinubu, MD/CEO of Oando Plc., Paul Gbededo CEO/Managing Director of Flour Mills, Sadiq Usman Chief Operating Officer Flour Mills, and Dr. Sunday Enebeli Uzor of Zenith Bank. The Nigerian Investment Promotion Council directly coordinated the CID from the Nigerian side.
As both sides discussed the positives in the digital economy, the United States-Nigeria CID program notes stated that Nigeria showed an increase in smartphone adoption. Presently, over 53 million Nigerians are reported to possess a smartphone device.
The report further noted that mobile technology connects up to 49% of the Nigerian population.
Despite the minor success, representatives from the United States and Nigeria believed that more needed to be done to strengthen the digital economy sector in Nigeria.
A short-term solution was proposed at the meeting in order to ensure capacity building for public sector officials through workshops and other fundamental programs. These programs would cater to pro-development regulations and policies that properly address these issues in the digital economy sector
The long-term solution for this plan, as proposed by representatives on both sides, may include a quarterly public private forum that addresses business and investment in the ICT sector.
The agricultural sector was also a major topic of discussion at the dialogue. Though Nigeria has about 75% of land that could be used for cultivation, only about 40% of land is dedicated towards agriculture. In addition, there is also a high deficiency of protein in Nigeria, which causes a high level of malnutrition and mortality within the economy.
Ed Beaman, Senior Director New Program, Development, Non-Traditional Funding & Sub Saharan Africa, U.S Soyabean Export Council (USSEC), indicated a curriculum to develop human capacity is in the works. The overall plan for the Agricultural sector is to form a proposition that would improve access to finance, which in turn would enable SMEs, access to U.S equipment, bulk grain purchases, grain and cold storage facilities, as well as additional seeds and agronomy technology products.
Throughout the dialogue, Nigerian and American representative devised short and long-term plans that will help open the door of opportunities for Nigeria to U.S businesses. The key issues identified were intellectual property concerns, taxation and capacity building.
The private sector also called out the business visa challenges and its impediment to investments. The visa on arrival programs to ensure accelerated entry for business into Nigeria can be improved by leveraging the models of countries like Rwanda and Kenya. The meeting noted that the BVIS programs that supports business visits to the U.S for American companies should be extended to Nigerian corporations as well.
Following the meeting, there was a small reception for the attendees of the event and a small birthday celebration for Minister Adebayo, as he turned a year older. There were also remarks made by Ambassador Leonard, Minister Adebayo and Ruth Dowling, Senior Vice President General Counsel EMEA for American Tower Corporation.
Dowling shared a good track record of her company’s involvement in Nigeria’s telecommunications space. “246 out of 250 employees are Nigerian,” Dowling said.
She went on further to add that American Tower Corporation had invested about $2 billion dollars since their arrival in Nigeria.
Ambassador Leonard highlighted the ongoing business projects the United States has implemented in Nigeria. She also touched on the recent launch of the West African Hub in Abuja, which was an initiative from the USAID. This new hub will create 40,000 jobs and dispense $600 million in co-investment funds plus attracting a five-year private sector investment of $300 million.
Minister Adebayo rounded off by expressing his optimism following the success of the event. He also mentions the upcoming AGOA DC forum in June and how his ministry would benefit from that program.
“We would leverage that meeting by having a technical session. We would reach out to the private sector for further input and feedback as government works at the delivery of the low hanging fruit.”
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