By Terhemen Ikyaave
The volume of goods and services that a nation produces and sells to other countries impact the strength of its local economy. A strong export base promotes national self-reliance, creates jobs, ensures efficient resource allocation and capital formation for a country.
A good example is the South East Asian Tigers. The rapid growth and transformation of the economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan owe their origin to the export-led strategy that their governments implemented between 1965 and 1995.
The good news is that Nigeria is on the same path, albeit with mixed results and plenty of room for improvement. Since 1986, Nigeria has pursued an export led strategy. This includes emphasis on non-oil exports such as Cocoa, Groundnut, Cotton, Palm Produce, Rubber and Grains owing to perennial fluctuations in the prices of oil in the international market.
One institutional component of this export strategy was the establishment of the Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) in 1991 to ensure sustainable growth of non-oil exports. Designed as an export credit agency, NEXIM provides finance and risk bearing services to exporters and has over the years played a leading role in defining the country’s export market.
In April 2017, the Buhari administration appointed a new management for the bank under the leadership of Mr. Abba Bello, a seasoned banker with over 28 years’ experience. The team inherited a huge portfolio of non-performing loans, weak internal processes, dwindling confidence in the bank by partners – regional and international- and a lack of professionalism in the conduct of the bank’s business.
Three years on now and the turnaround is remarkably manifest. From implementing a strategic re-alignment of business focus, aggressive debt recovery drive to the execution of bold initiatives to bolster its impact on non-oil exports, the Abba Bello management team is breaking new ground and repositioning the bank as a catalyst for growing the country’s non-oil export market.
NEXIM: From Insolvency to Profitability
To start, the Abba Bello Management Team has successfully steered NEXIM from the brink of insolvency to profitability in three years. From posting a loss of N8.03billion in 2016, another loss of N569m in 2017, the bank has reversed the trend to record consecutive profits of N1.09billion in 2018 and N2.03bn in 2019.
Tapping Growth Potential of the Maritime Sector
Next is the historic breakthrough in NEXIM bank’s efforts to open the country’s maritime industry. Early this month NEXIM, in line with its target to develop inland waterways, boost maritime trade and enhance the volume of Nigeria’s exports, successfully facilitated the consummation of a tripartite pact between Sealink Consortium and the federal government.
The deal consolidates efforts to establish a regional shipping company through a public private partnership (PPP) that will see the increased use of Nigeria’s waterways for transporting goods. The execution of the partnership will promote trade and mitigate the transport and logistic challenges that have increased cost of trade transactions. It will also help relieve pressure on Nigerian roads, introduce cost efficiencies in transport logistics and enhance regional trade between Nigeria and other countries.
“The idea behind the MoU is to facilitate export of the solid minerals out of the country, building efficiencies in our sea transport system. SEALINK will serve in the evacuation of the raw materials from the hinterlands through the inland waterways. For us, this is a milestone. Providing effective logistics; providing diversification sources for the nation’s economy and creating jobs,” Bello said.
Under the terms of the deal, Sealink is not only expected to foster maritime transportation of goods from inside the country but will also facilitate trade within West Africa. The partnership is of historic significance in part because there are currently no vessels that facilitate trade between neighbors in West Africa. Sealink is thus, positioned to fill the gap.
Revamp of CBN Intervention Programs to Boost Exports
The past three years have also seen stronger collaboration between NEXIM Bank and the Central Bank of Nigeria in the management of two intervention schemes to boost funding support to the non-oil export sector, under a new philosophy of Produce, Add Value and Export (PAVE).
First is the N500 billion Non-Oil Export Stimulation Facility (NESF) that was initiated by the CBN, in collaboration with NEXIM to help redress the declining export financing and reposition the sector to increase its contribution to economic development.
The facility is designed to improve access of exporters to concessionary finance to expand and diversify the non-oil export baskets; attract new investments and encourage re-investments in value-added non-oil exports production and non-traditional exports; and shore up non-oil export sector productivity and create more jobs.
Other impact areas include supporting export-oriented companies to upscale and expand their export operations as well as capabilities; and broadening of the scope of export financing instruments.
Within the past three years, due to process enhancement and an aggressive drive to make a difference, the Bello management team have processed loans under the scheme totaling N39.45 billion to 27 export companies.
Second is the N50 billion Export Development Fund (EDF). The fund is structured to stimulate and increase funding, especially to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) towards facilitating regional industrialization for value added exports and broadening Nigeria’s export basket and market destinations.
Since the CBN released the funds to NEXIM in February 2018 the bank has deployed a total of N52.9 billion to support 62 strategic export related projects.
Another notable initiative of NEXIM is the ECOWAS Trade Support Facility. Though launched a few years ago by the previous management, this initiative has been taken to the next level under the Abba-led administration. The export financing framework is designed to support small traders operating in the regional market to further the regional protocol under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS).
The bank is now poised to assist Nigerian exporters to upscale their products in readiness for the commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)
Relatedly, NEXIM is the national guarantor under the Inter-state Road Transit Scheme (ISRT), designed to prevent diversion of goods transported by road to other ECOWAS countries, to prevent revenue leakages in member countries.
Given that the operationalisation of the ISRT scheme requires inter-agency cooperation, the Bank is forging necessary alliances with other government institutions and other ECOWAS countries for successful implementation of the programme.
NEXIM is also promoting an export trading company, called NEXPORTRADE Houses Limited, in partnership with the export group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC). The Abba led administration is currently working with other stakeholders to rebrand and retool the operations of the company.
NEXPORTRADE provides a platform for SMEs to trade in the regional market by providing warehouses in other African countries where SMEs can display their goods to enhance their access to the regional market.
Equally important is NEXIM bank’s introduction of a State Export Development Programme. Through this programme, NEXIM is working with every state of the federation to develop at least one exportable commodity in furtherance of government’s objective under One State One Product programme.
The initiative is also targeted at promoting regional industrialization and poverty alleviation. Under the scheme, the bank has earmarked at least N1billion under favorable terms and conditions to each state of the federation for offer to the target beneficiaries, which are mostly SMEs. The State Export Development Programme also includes an Aggregator scheme, whereby the Bank provides support to a large exporting company, who in turn could support a large number of farmers under an outgrower arrangement. This ensures that the bank supports the entire export value chain, particularly in the agricultural sector.
NEXIM bank is also a major partner of the Nationwide MSME clinic, being conducted by the Presidency under the office of the Vice President. Under the initiative, NEXIM bank has reached out to many SMEs and made vital contributions towards the provision of common facility centers towards assisting SMEs to upscale their products, thus increasing their domestic and international competitiveness.
In December 2018, the bank signed a tripartite agreement with AFREXIMBANK and Nigerian Export Promotion Council for a partnership to provide $1 billion financing to support Nigeria’s trade and investments in other African countries. The Bank has since agreed modalities for the disbursement of the fund with Afreximbank and has started processing applications from exporters with focus on the regional market.
MASS as a Diversification Compass
To ensure fidelity to the bank’s mandate as well as align corporate actions towards deliberate results and impact, the Abba Bello Team on resumption developed a new corporate strategy 2018-2022, which aims to make the Bank one of the leading export financing institution in Africa. In doing this, the bank revalidated its target sectors, described by the acronym MASS, which stands for Manufacturing, Agro-processing, Solid Minerals and Services. This MASS agenda serves as a corporate compass that guides institutional efforts designed to support the Buhari administration’s diversification strategy.
Driving Value Addition
NEXIM bank within the past three years has also made remarkable strides in supporting exporters to embrace value addition in the lines of exports. The push is in line with its PAVE philosophy which stands for “Produce, Add Value and Export” with the objective of helping Nigerian exporters earn more.
This renewed drive is significant. For instance, Nigeria is the largest producer of shea in the world but has no major footprint in the export of shea products. The story is the same for many other Nigerian exports like leather, cocoa etc.
NEXIM is orchestrating change. In 2018, one of the companies funded by the bank did the first major export of shea butter out of Nigeria. The Bank is also supporting operators in the leather industry to move up the value chains by producing leather products such as shoes, belts and bags.
Overall, the remarkable efforts of the Abba Bello Management team to reposition NEXIM bank are not only timely but necessary. Against the continuing turmoil in the global oil markets, the resulting negative impact on the country’s finances and trade balances along with the wide ranging effects on the economy, the country cannot wait much larger to engineer that drastic weaning off its dependence on oil. NEXIM therefore requires encouragement and increased support of government, partners, and stakeholders to lead the push in unleashing the potentials of non-oil exports as drivers of economic growth.
Ikyaave is a public policy analyst based in Abuja and can be reached via email@example.com