Jonathan Eze writes on efforts by the federal government to enhance non-oil exports in the country
The Nigerian economy has for decades precariously leaned on the fragile crude oil sector.
Consequently, it has had a chequered growth trajectory driven by the vicissitudes of oil prices and has resulted to the jobless growth the country recorded over the years.
Expectedly, attention has since shifted towards non-oil export as a remedial for this quagmire and it is being championed by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC).
The agency recently partnered two institutions, the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC) and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in pursuit of the above.
Prior to this development, the Chief Executive Officer of the NEPC, Mr. Segun Awolowo, had assured that he would intensify efforts at improving the contribution of non-oil exports to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria.
He also pledged to continue NEPC’s drive towards a zero-oil economy, hinged on the accelerated development of the country’s non-oil sector.
“This will be enhanced by the implementation of the zero-oil pillar of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan and buoyed by the recently launched National Economic Council Committee on Export Promotion”, he added.
The recent partnerships were indeed steps in the right direction as they would facilitate the stated resolve.
Affirming this, Awolowo, while speaking on the partnership with NACC said the initiative was to boost Nigeria’s non-oil export through the provisions of the African growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The NEPC boss said it was regrettable that non-oil export trade between Nigeria and the United States of America (USA) has remained abysmally low at two per cent but assured that with the partnership and different initiatives of the council, Nigeria would ramp up the non-oil export figures.
Awolowo added: “There is still a lot to be achieved in driving the non-oil sector export, and the council has put up different initiatives to ensure that Nigeria optimises AGOA before its expiration.”
He disclosed that the federal government has created a national committee for export promotion to drive its zero-oil plan, saying that the National Economic Council (NEC)-chaired by the Vice President- Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, with the 36 State Governors as members- would go a long way to boosting productivity in the nation’s non-oil export sector in a bid to get goods exported to the US.
Justifying the partnership, Awolowo stated inter-alia: “We are here because the chamber is going to be important to increase our non-oil export to the US. We need you to explore the possibility of investment into priority areas for development of our export”.
According to him, Nigeria has been a good receiver of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) from USA, but the FDIs may have gone into the financial services, telecommunications and ICT. He therefore stressed: “We need more investment in manufacturing and industry, because these are the real investments. This will be the major focus where we want your organisation to help us. We also need to improve the quality of our products, and we are also going to need your support to expose how we can meet the American standards,” he said.
Also, the president, NACC, Oluwatoyin Akomolafe, said the Chamber has been working very closely with the council to seek ways of adopting a prepared AGOA implementation strategy.
He added that the Chamber would appreciate increased senior representation on the AGOA committee at the Ministry of Trade.
Akomolafe stated further: “We want you to support us. There are plans to make Nigeria the center for AGOA in Africa. So, we need to really work very closely together.”
The NACC president stressed that the need for partnership for promotion of AGOA through capacity building and awareness creation cannot be overemphasised, just as he canvassed the identification of clusters of local producers and benchmarking of successes made over time.
He added that most of the African countries that have done well in AGOA have all implemented a well-articulated national AGOA strategy.
“This is why we developed- over a year ago a national strategy for Nigeria. We want an implementable strategy. We call it a five-year strategy programme, where- on a yearly basis we measure the level of success we have made.
“However, the Chamber cannot approve a national AGOA strategy; that is why we are seeking the support of the ministry of trade through this partnership with the council”, he stressed.
Speaking on the partnership with UNIDO, Awolowo disclosed that it was part of series of capacity building and awareness programmes all targeted at ensuring that non-oil exports are globally competitive through quality assurance and hitch- free export.
Specifically, he said at the sensitisation workshop on implementation of the Export Control Plan on Dried Beans Export, that the move was an additional effort by the council at reducing the incidence of rejection of agricultural exports to European Union and other parts of the world.
The partnership, he explained further, had become imperative to address European Union’s EU) suspension of the export of Nigeria’s dried beans due to its high pesticide residue which he said was far above the Maximum Residual Level (MRL). He disclosed that UNIDO under the National Quality Infrastructure Project (NQIP) had so far been partnering the council on series of activities to address the ban.
Awolowo listed the reasons why Nigeria’s agricultural exports have been encountering challenges of reject in the international markets.
These, according to him, included non-adherence to sanitary and phytosanitary measures, non-compliance to administrative procedures, non-compliance to documentation, technical barrier issues such as poor packaging, labelling, insufficient information on nutritional content and prevalence of informal exports.
He disclosed that the council had taken proactive steps to address and stem the rising tide of rejection of Nigerian agricultural produce, by setting up a 21-member Inter-Agency Committee on non-oil exports in 2016.
Also, a Quality and Business Excellence Expert with UNIDO, Simeon Umukoro, said both organisations have been working relentlessly on lifting the ban on the country’s dry beans since 2016.
He disclosed that the partnership has also led to the development of an Integrated Export Document which he said is at its third tier to certify Nigerian farms.
‘‘Once all these efforts are in place, we believe the dry beans ban will be raised to help expand the export threshold of Nigeria,’’ he added.
Significantly too, NEPC-in February, year- also facilitated the skill acquisition of 35 youths, in partnership with a private enterprise- Femi Hand Bags.
The youths were trained on how to produce top quality leather products up to the level of export, and their graduation ceremony held in Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital.
The Council partnered with Femi Hand Bags for an intensive two-week capacity workshop in the area of manufacturing handbags, corporate gifts, wallets and other leather items to enhance the development of the sector for export. That was the second batch of trainees on leather production to be graduated under the partnership- which had the aim of creating job opportunities for the unemployed by providing them with training in the field of finished leather products as well as strengthening the sector for domestic production and, eventually, for export purposes.
With these collaborations and several other initiatives including many more to be unfolded in the weeks and months and years ahead, there is no gainsaying that NEPC is poised to sufficiently play expected roles in the nation’s quest for economic diversification by ensuring that local products are globally competitive.