The Italian Trade Agency Director for West Africa, Alessandro Gerbino, in this interview, speaks on the trade imbalance between Nigeria and Italy and emphasises the need for both countries to collaborate in the area of raw material and technology to boost their economies. Raheem Akingbolu provides the excerpts:
Few years ago, Nigeria witnessed an economic recession and two years ago, Italy witnessed the same thing, which affected both local and international trading activities in business and economy. What role do you think the recent opening of the Italian Trade Agency in Lagos will play in advancing the economy in both countries?
Italy is a very export oriented economy. Foreign trade generates 30% of our GDP and it has been the most dynamic part of our economy, always been growing at a faster pace than our economy. So it is the driver of our economy. We have suffered the weakness of the Italian demands, but the foreign demands, despite it varies in intensity due to the World Economic cycle, has remained important. The Italian growth drive and exports have always been faster than that of the National economy, and that proves that even in harder times, our companies have been able to continue to sell and sell more in all the clients markets where they are playing because they have been very constant in delivery, quality and in assistance to clients.
The Italian Trade Agency has been in Ghana for quite a while, and now it has come to Nigeria. What informed the time of the inauguration?
Actually, we are not moving, the Accra office is the headquarters for West Africa and now we are developing our network in West Africa. This is why we came up as soon as we could with opening a branch in Nigeria because it is a priority to be in Nigeria as it is the biggest economy in Africa. The size of the economy requires our direct presence here.
Looking at the trade balance between Nigeria and Italy, what is the agency going to do to balance the trade differences? Closely related to that would be what areas can the Nigeria businesses explore?
I think that at this stage, the trade between Italy and Nigeria is at a point where it still offers an ample emergence for growth. On the other hand, we rely on raw materials supply from Nigeria to Italy, while we export from Italy to Nigeria mostly technology and other goods that are typical from Italy, such as furniture, building construction materials etc.. but still, the market share we have in Nigeria is below the average market share we can enjoy by the market. Because of the dynamics of Nigeria, we want to catch the growing demands that are in Nigeria for quality finished products. Nigeria is seeking to rebalance its economy gaining independence from Oil and Gas and diversifying into other industries and putting value to its raw material. Putting value to raw materials is what Italy does best and Italy has developed technology to do it. So, I suppose such technology will be of interest to Nigeria so as to be able to produce for itself high-level goods not only for the Nigerian Market that is going to grow in size but also for exporting to meet the demands for other markets in sourcing for quality. You need to have the equipment to match the standards that are required from the industries overseas starting from the European ones.
The Opening of the Trade Agency is taking place at a very strategic time when the Nigerian government is striving towards backward integration. How do u want to key into this?
It is a very understandable policy from the Nigerian Government, to adopt these measures that have the objective to develop the local industry. What we offer is to serve such development with our technology and possibly with our investments as well and we act on both directions but our companies can bring both technology and capital.
From the feedback you have gotten from Italian companies in Nigeria, what is your view about their operations and performances?
There is a large community of Italian companies in Nigeria that has been working here for a long time but the feedback I got is that we need to bring both countries together. They are here because they believe in the Italy-Nigeria relationship, they believe in the success of this strategic partnership. However there is still too little knowledge about Italy / Nigeria business opportunities on both sides, and that is a area that need to be addressed vigourously. Considering the fact that information is the basis of business, this should be taken seriously. You don’t build a business relationship without proper information. We need to build information infrastructure because information is key to decision.
Can we now say the agency is coming to Nigeria to build the communication gaps?
We will do everything we can to bridge the communication gap. Our number one priority is to establish a network so we can convey messages about opportunities and possibilities. That is the very first thing but of course, we do not want to limit our activity to bring only information. We want to bring people to have experiences about what we can do in Italy. We offer them experiences in the sense of Italian exhibitions and bring them to our production sites to see how things are done. We are also bringing more Italian companies here for the first time and this I would like to highlight is a lot because it is also very important news from us. For us, we will have the first National Pavilion at the Plastprintpack Exhibition that is taking place in March in Lagos. The ITA in partnership with the Italian Industry Association of the machinery producers is going to be there along with a group of Italian companies to display and offer the equipment that eagerly produces and is for the plastic processing industry and for the printing industry. It is also worth mentioning that Italy is certainly a world leader for the recycling industry technology.
With Nigeria’s intention to diversify from oil, the country is serious about exploring the agricultural sector with everyone seeing it as the way to go. What role do you think the agency and Italy as a whole can play to further deepen agricultural development?
I mentioned that Italy is very famous in the world for fashion, food, and furniture, but in fact, we are stronger in technology and with our power in technology, there are areas where we are an undisputed leader and agriculture machinery is one of them. and if I have to name the number one priority for us, it is exactly all the technology related to the agricultural processing from the field, to harvesting, storage, transformation, everything along the value chain of the agro-industry is what Italy can say a lot about. We have already sent a delegation last January to an exhibition in Italy. Another one just came back on Saturday from another exhibition in Italy and it is an exhibition plus side activities and more to come.
What is the significance of the Italian Trade Agency Launch to both countries’ economies?
I think the key thing is to create a platform for Nigerian and Italian companies to engage to trade with each other and I think it will create more opportunities for both sides in terms of identifying new clients, new industries, new markets. But also, for Nigerian Companies, it will provide additional opportunities as it would present an alternative; another option in terms of sourcing technology, sourcing equipment etc. So, I think it’s very beneficial to both sides and it will also allow to better support the business partnerships with financial support.