Why quality is imperative to make a nation competitive, by EU Ambassador Michel Arrion
The European Development Fund (EDF) is the European Union (EU)’s main instrument for providing development aid to African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and to overseas countries and territories. Under the 10th EDF, the National Quality Infrastructure Project (NQIP) for Nigeria was signed into agreement with the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) in 2013 to be implemented with the technical support of United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). This project was extended by 15 months from April 20, 2017 to July 19, 2018 to further ensure its purpose is achieved and enshrined into the country in a sustainable way. In this interview, Michel Arrion, EU Ambassador to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), spoke to on the efforts being put in by the European body and the implementing organization, UNIDO, to accomplish their mandate.
How satisfied is the EU with the achievement so far as regards the implementation of the EDF project in the country?
Quality is one of the elements of the competitiveness of products and of a country. What we are doing through this programme is to directly support, in my views, the important economic policies of the government: industrialization and diversification. Diversification of the economy means diversification of exportations. Today, 97 percent of the exportations of Nigeria to Europe are made of oil and gas. Industrialization can play a role, because we fully support the subjective of adding value in Nigeria, before exporting. In this globalized economy, the finished products are made from parts from other countries. For example, a typical European car is made in Europe with parts coming from 40 countries! Nigeria can produce automobile parts like Tyres because of her abundant rubber. Instead of exporting rubber, the country can add value by turning rubber to tyres [and] sell to the European, American or Asian manufacturers. Competitiveness is not only to be cheap! We do not buy cheap products, we buy good products – value for money.
Not only do you have to be competitive in relation to your cost and your price, but also the quality. One has to be attentive to the point that it is not only the authorities that are fixing the norms, but also the business. If you want to export vegetables or fruits to Europe, it is not the EU that is fixing the norms, it is big retail shops. [The EU is] fixing a few of them in terms of hygiene and sanitary standards but we are not inventing these norms – they are adopted at international level by agencies like Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN. [It is] one thing…to export a good product, another one is to export a product that is competitive and compliant with international standards and norms of the authorities but also of the business. Nigeria is not isolated. More than improved infrastructure or workable policy in a given sector, there is the need for good image, reputation, [and] ranking in the ease of doing business, to attract investment. Investors usually compare all the pros and the cons of investing in a given country.
Shall my investment be protected? If I sign contracts, shall I be able to enforce my contract? We are working with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) but also [with] the laboratories certifying the packaging [and] the way goods can be reproduced and replicated in a very consistent manner.
The EU has been in partnership with UNIDO, both at the national and regional level on different projects during your tenure. How would you describe this relationship and its inherent potential for the future of the EU and indeed for the future of Nigeria and the region in general?
The EU is an end-product of a process of economic integration. We firmly believe in regional integration, at both political and economic level. Nigeria represents 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the ECOWAS region. When we are funding projects with ECOWAS, there is always a huge component that is focusing on Nigeria. Nigeria can also be better integrated in regional value chains. There are similar agencies like the SON and NAFDAC in other West African countries. Therefore, we don’t think a product crossing three countries should be checked at every border…by every agency. We are working on this question of accreditation across the region. If NAFDAC approves an orange juice produced in Nigeria, the Ivorian or the Senegalese agency should not test and check the product again. They should just recognize the certification of Nigeria. All those hurdles are creating cost and are making the products in West Africa more expensive than they should be.
Considering the EU ban on commodities from Nigeria, and the ongoing efforts of the FGN to address challenges in the food chain system by Zero Reject Inter-Ministerial Committee under Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as the strong commitment of relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and the office of the Vice President with the support of UNIDO. Are you satisfied with these steps and process going on and what would you advise as the immediate and urgent in addressing this trade issue between Nigeria and the EU Member States?
Let me clarify that there is no ban on commodities. There is one ban on one product – the dried beans. There have been some cases of rejections of a few containers for egusi, sesame seeds, and smoked catfish. It is a rejection on a specific basis – quality of the products. It is not a technical [or] trade barrier. We are attentive to the quality and the problem of pesticides, and other toxins and residues. If we at the EU are rejecting a few containers of dried beans that are toxic, what is happening to the consumers in Nigeria or the region? This is a very serious issue directly linked to what we call pest management. Sometimes, everybody thinks that the [agency] is dealing with the thing, but no-one is taking care. We are working with them to improve all aspects of the pest management. Quality is also compliance with Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Standards (SPS). There is an increasing cases of liver cancer, which is attributed to aflatoxin in groundnuts or fried products. That is a real problem of public health.
If you have to evaluate your efforts in office and time spent here with the people of Nigeria as EU Head of Delegation to Nigeria, in what ways would you like to be remembered?
There are two important factors to take into consideration, which include full recognition of the federal character of the country. [Nigeria] is made of 36 states. You ask me how I want to be recalled or remembered? Well, as someone who has crisscrossed the country. I have been in more than 30 states in Nigeria and I think it is extremely important because of the different challenges, the diversity. I mean, you are not working in Katsina or in Sokoto, just like you are working in Abia or Akwa Ibom. Even geographically, the climate is different. The people are different. The comparative advantage of Akwa Ibom is different from Katsina. We as diplomats or international partners, work a lot with the authorities but what really makes the difference in Nigeria is Nigerians. It is not working with Nigeria that is important, it is working with Nigerians. The vibrant private sector, dynamic civil society, that is where the comparative advantages of Nigeria are – the people. I would like to be remembered as someone who has engaged with Nigerians, not only the Nigerian authorities.
What’s your take on the diversity for Nigeria in terms of trade?
Apart from fantastic sources of oil and gas which can be used to produce electricity, Nigeria has a lot of solid minerals, coal and lands. You can farm and produce in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the country is not exploiting those resources enough. Definitely, Nigeria has to multiply by 10 her production and consumption of energy, in particular, electricity, which should be given absolute priority.
And are you satisfied with what NQIP is doing?
Yes! Yes, of course. That’s precisely why we are looking at the next step already.
Finally, on the National Quality Infrastructure programme…?
I think we are making progress. It is a triangular relation: The EU, UNIDO and FGN. There is room for developing this programme, not only with EU money – also with Nigerian money. What international partners are doing is just to provide seed money or catalytic money. When we are successful, I think, Nigeria with her own budget, should replicate, and use the lessons learnt for development. [Quality] is necessary and imperative, to make Nigeria competitive!
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