Brexit affords Nigeria opportunity for closer bilateral ties with UK
Professor Chris Onalo is the Country Director of the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF), United Kingdom’s premiere organisation for facilitating and promoting trade and investment between the two countries. In this interview with FEMI ADEKOYA, he speaks on how Nigeria can regain its place the Commonwealth by deepening its bilateral ties with British. Excerpts.
There is a notion that a Commonwealth market may evolve with the exit of Britain from the European Union. How do you think Nigeria can access the market?
Truly, Europe remains a major market as a one bloc entity, but then, the disadvantage are much if other countries won’t have direct investments or trade with Nigeria. There could be some traditional hurdles which could be negotiated between Nigeria and such individual or a country, but as a bloc, it becomes a highly narrowed down pathway for a successful trade and investment negotiation.
So, that itself is a major hurdle for Nigeria and with Britain coming out of that union, it provides a fresher opportunity for Nigeria to negotiate such areas of trade and investment possibilities and apart from one on one negotiations between Nigeria and Britain. There is also a further opportunity for Nigeria to harness the potential inherent in another massive market which is the Commonwealth market. These nations were typically founded by the Great Britain and it becomes obvious that Great Britain has something on her own hands if the passion is to look for an expansive market which of course is key to any political survival.
So I believe Nigeria is a major country among 16 member-countries of the Commonwealth Nation and could fit with the Britain to explore the opportunity of creating bigger market for the purpose of integration of the Commonwealth member nations. That will not be a bad idea for Britain and Nigeria to come together to negotiate that.
In the face of BREXIT, UK is seen as an entry point into the EU market. Do you see the UK coming up with a trade deal just like EU has with Africa through the EPA and AGOA like the US?
When nations are coming together for economic interest, there will be wide-range negotiations which will touch on areas that will considered beneficial to all the member nations. It will warrant setting up very strong authority or strong instrument that will also regulate products and services’ standards and also give a quota that would allow member nations to further expand their economic interests. Each country has something unique and each country has something to sell to the other one and apart from collaboration, it will also afford member-nations the opportunity to quickly look at what they can export directly into the market themselves. I think the exit of Britain, is a golden opportunity that has actually singled the country out to be a factor to reckon with and with whom, Nigeria can take the leadership in terms of other countries it has colonised. So I see opportunities for member countries in the commonwealth to export their products and have the freedom to expand their economic frontiers and that will keep the spirit of the Commonwealth going.
Often times, trade relations between Nigeria and European countries are seen as trade between unequal partners, in terms of size of market. Do you think Nigeria has more to offer to the market considering the level of rejection of non-oil export to the EU and other countries?
Each country has responsibility to ensure that their products and services packaging is within international best standards and quality. What is important is not the question of trade balance between countries. Why is it in favour of other countries?
The way forward is to harness your potential, look inward and do what you have to do, bring up regulations, bring up quality standards. Nigeria has got a lot and nobody will come to develop these potential for us. What we have, most countries do not have in common international market and it is quite competitive. If you do not have a standard regulatory authority set up by the European Union for example or by the Commonwealth, the market will be saturated with fake and substandard products and that could be handful to human beings.
There must be a standard and with that standard if you produce whatever you want to produce within that quality standard, the international market is open for you. There will be negotiations if we have competitive products coming from member countries in terms of what quantity that is allowed to move into the market like what is happening in OPEC, but then, the market will continue to absorb them so that everybody will have a bit of share of the market.
It is possible that the trade balance and the imbalances are typically the function of first of all, how competitive are your products? And if it is not competitive, there will be a rejection and you have to market your products. There is a global platform for each country to market their products and also create the demand for the product and when the demand is high because of the quality standards, the durability, the consumers will yearn for it.
Today we are in a global market and everybody can access the global market through the Internet, people can place orders for your products, but then at the much more organised level where you have to raise your voice in defence of your own products and services, then you have to ask for more allocation, more quota and you justify it. It will be given to you, but the basic thing quite fundamentally speaking, is the quality standard of your products and services, the availability and the competitiveness.
Trade ties between Nigeria and the Britain has dropped in recent times. What do you think is responsible for this and what do you think Nigeria can do to address this going forward?
On the part of the UK, there is a mindset or a perception that Nigeria is not yet an attractive market to Britain and that is the reason why much more British people are not inclined to investing, buying or selling from or to Nigeria. South Africa has dominated the market and other European countries. It became obvious that Nigeria was not on the priority list and given the history of one time export to Nigeria through export credit grant department of the UK, much more credit were extended in the early 50s down to the 70s.
Britain was selling to Nigeria massively, but that was through the Paris club or London club. It was guaranteed and it became government’s debt where government was not able to get its fund from Nigeria. It was the Obasanjo’s administration that successfully negotiated and part of that debt was paid, but the exporters in UK, the entrepreneurs themselves in UK were not quite happy that the fund was not easily retrieved from the Nigerian importers and that has created a bad perception and a very negative perception about Nigeria.
They believe Nigeria is not a good market and Nigerians are eager to go to the UK, they buy a lot of properties in UK, they open offices in UK, open corporate multinationals, blue chip companies, conglomerates, middle-class SMEs and UK has a standard which if you do not have up to £200,000 you cannot invest in the UK. So you can see the capital flight going into the UK and nothing is coming down to Nigeria from the UK except the few sectors where UK has investments in Nigeria.
All the time, you could experience imbalance of trade in favour of Britain and against Nigeria, but then, with the exit of Britain from the European Union, the next four to five years, if Nigeria is quite smart, this is the time to be at the round table to address some bottlenecks hindering the British coming down here. This is the finest opportunity for Nigeria to assert itself with Britain and see which area of quick export to Britain, the ready products Nigeria believes is of high standards that can sell at the international market.
This is the time for Nigeria to strike its feet in the minds of the UK and then, the trading balance can be addressed, Nigeria is highly under-developed and with capital projects requiring a lot of money that Nigeria does not have, we need investments down here and it is the opportunity that Nigeria has got right now.
This is the time to say Nigeria is the biggest country out of all the countries the British colonised and show them the opportunities that are available in the country. The exit of Britain from the European Union affords Nigeria the opportunity to close rank with the UK. There must be a deliberate campaign and efforts to address the negative mindset that is pervading within the Britain towards Nigeria.
If that is achieved, the trade imbalance will be harmonised and most likely in favour of Nigeria and of course we know the issue of security is a global concern, but government must convince the international community that there is an aggressive step being taken and there is consistency in government pronouncement and execution of policies to address various challenges. We must get to the root of the matter and get down the pressure that the insecurity is bringing on investment inflows into the country.