No doubt, this week was loaded, especially in Washington D.C, where representatives from the United States of American and Nigerian governments and private sector met. They met at the United States Chamber of Commerce for the Commercial and Investment Dialogue (CID) on February 4, 2020 and Nairametrics was in attendance.
The event was organised by the U.S Chamber of Commerce, American Business Council Nigeria, and U.S Department of Commerce.
Present at the CID event were Hon. Karen Dunn Kelley, Deputy Secretary of Commerce, U.S Department of Commerce; Hon. Richard Adebayo, Nigerian Minister of 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).
Why it matters: The ultimate goal of the CID is to deepen trade and investment ties between both countries by formulating a conversation with policymakers and the private sector and by highlighting the importance of improving the business climate, as well as the need to build a greater economic growth for the United States and Nigeria.
The areas of focus addressed by the CID include challenges and real deal opportunities in infrastructure, agriculture, digital economy, investment and regulatory reform sector. The private sector Lead for the US side is Kimberly Clark.
According to a report circulated in the program notes for the event, Nigeria has a thriving SME ecosystem and is increasingly showing a spike in smartphone adoption to over 53 million connections- a necessary fillip for SME growth.
The report further noted that mobile technology connects 49% of the population, in comparison to other Nigerians that have a fixed-line connection. These people account for less than 1% of the country’s entire population.
There is a further need to strengthen the digital economy sector within Nigeria. To do so the government needs to encourage data protection and not localization.
According to the United States – Nigeria CID program notes, the free flow of data across borders is the precondition for showing a competitive and digital economy that enhances the security and privacy of the citizens.
One of the proposed short-term solutions reached at the meeting was to ensure capacity building to public sector officials through workshops and other fundamental programs, which would focus on pro-development regulations and policies that address these issues.
A long-term solution for this plan may include a quarterly public-private forum, which addresses the issues affecting business and investment in the ICT sector.
The meeting did not also shy away from the agriculture sector and its importance to the Nigerian society. Though the country has about 75% of land ready for cultivation, only 40 % of the land is cultivated. To make matters worse, there is also a high deficiency of protein in Nigeria, which leads to a high level of malnutrition and mortality.
In order to combat the issues of food security and to improve the value chain, a proposed plan shared by Ed Beaman, Senior Director New Program Development, Non-Traditional Funding & Sub Saharan Africa, U.S Soyabean Export Council (USSEC), stated that a rigorous curriculum to develop human capacity leading to certification across the value chains was in the works. The plan also proposed to improve access to finance in order to enable SMEs’ access to U.S equipment, bulk grain purchases, grain and cold storage facilities, and additional seed as well as agronomy technology products.
The Nigerian private sector that participated at the event includes 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.
At the reception, which followed the government-to-government discussion on the next step, Ruth Dowling, Senior Vice President General Counsel EMEA for American Tower Cooperation and sponsors of the event, shared a good accomplishment record of their company’s involvement in the Telecommunication space in Nigeria.
The cooperation has a burgeoning workforce made of 246 Nigerian employees excluding indirect employees in the value chain. She also stated that the company had invested about 2 billion dollars since their entry into Nigeria.
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard noted that US was committed to growing business projects in Nigeria including the recent launch of the West African Hub an initiative of the USAID that would help create 40,000 jobs and administer $60 million in co-investment funds plus attracting private-sector investment of $300 million in five years.
Minister Adebayo expressed optimism for the positive outcome of the event. He also stated that the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment would leverage the AGOA meeting in June to hold a technical session.
Adebayo added that he and others within his Ministry would reach out to the private sector for input and feedback, as the government works to improve all sectors within the Nigerian economy.
There was a small celebration for Minister Adebayo at the reception as he turned a year older on the day of the event.
It was interesting to be in the midst of senior government officials and the private sector from the two countries sharing their optimism about business growth potentials
Though the issuance of the recent travel restriction by the Trump administration hangs like a dark cloud, what remains intact is Nigeria’s willingness to improve in all sectors by reaching out to its ally, the United States. This event underscores that the two countries are working hard to maintain a relationship in spite of the travel restriction.
Paul Olele Jnr writes from Washington DC. He is a 2019 graduate of George Washington University and currently works as graduate Media and Research Intern at the Initiative for Global Development.