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U. S. Nationalism: What Implications for Nigeria?

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Donald Trump.McNamee/Getty Images/AFP


It is no longer news that while African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) proponents are in a frenzy to realize the continental common market (and ultimately, a customs union) in a matter of days, the rest of the world appears to be heading towards nationalism and protectionism. And, without a doubt, the United States of America, under their 45th President, Donald Trump, is leading this ‘renascent nationalism’. Total identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations, is fast becoming the order of the day.

More than anybody else, Mr. Trump rode on the crest of‘nationalistic and emotive’ issues and sentiments which he played on during his electioneering, to get into the White House. “America for Americans” is no longer a mantra, but is fast becoming a way of life and the compass for diplomatic/trade relations with the rest of the world. The United Kingdom (UK) on its part, decided in June 2016, through a referendum, to ‘pull out’ of the European Union (EU), after close to fifty years membership of the bloc. London is so bent on achieving this objective that in the past three years, the ‘Brexit’ (British exit from EU) process has practically supplanted governance of the United Kingdom.

The tortuous process to realizing Brexit has ‘consumed’ two successive Prime Ministers (Mr. David Cameron and Ms. Theresa May) of the UK. Indeed, the Brexit is already assuming a crisis dimension, with the latest report saying that EU citizens in the UK were “denied voting” in the recent elections of the European Parliament. According to the report, “non-British EU citizens were turned away from polling stations on Thursday (May 23, 2019) after being told they were not registered to vote in the United Kingdom for the elections of the European Parliament.”

And for the US, the nationalism ‘crusade’ is being waged on several fronts: walls to separate it from neighbouring countries are being erected; tariffs are being raised to discourage the importation of a number of goods (and encourage local production or use of some substitutes); crude oil (shale oil) production is deliberately being encouraged to support cutting down importation or to stop importation as soon as possible; longstanding memberships of some trading blocs or treaties are being cancelled or reviewed; immigration and naturalization requirements are being tightened, etc.

Already a stand-off between the U.S. and China with respect to tariffs is fast degenerating into a ‘trade war’ with ripple effects on industrial production and trade in various parts of the globe. Indeed, a few days ago, Washington “effectively banned U.S. firms from doing business with Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms network gear maker, citing national security concerns.” China on its own part has been taking reprisal measures.

How long this war shall last as well as its dimensions, are yet unknown; but as it lingers, most nations of the world (including Nigeria) are bound to experience some of its spill-over effects. Already, prices of stocks, industrial production and some other economic activities are crashing in certain climes. According to GTI Research, “Asian shares hobbled near four-month lows on Friday (May 24, 2019) and crude oil plunged on worries the US-China trade spat was developing into a more entrenched strategic dispute between the world’s two largest economies, pushing investors to safe-haven assets.”

For Nigeria, Washington’s cutting down on importation of crude oil (or increase in the production of shale oil) translates directly to a shrinking of market and likely drop in revenue. Indeed, as at February this year, the US had cut monthly oil imports from Nigeria by almost 80 per cent: from 4.87 million barrels per day (mbpd) in January to a mere 540,000 barrels per day in February. The US bought 5.18 million bpd in December 2018, down from 10.3 million bpd in January 2018, according to data from Energy Information Administration (EIA). When this loss of market is added to the restrictive Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil supply quota for Nigeria in the face of bourgeoning shale oil from the US, the prospect gets grim.

Still in pursuit of national interest, the US Commerce Department said on Thursday, May 23, 2019, that Washington was proposing a new rule to impose anti-subsidy duties on products from countries that undervalue their currencies against the dollar. This will likely lead to higher tariffs on some products from many countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, India, Germany, etc. The Commerce Department said the proposed rule would amend the normal countervailing duty process to include new criteria for currency undervaluation. “This change puts foreign exporters on notice that the Department of Commerce can countervail currency subsidies that harm US industries”, Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross reportedly said in a statement, adding that “foreign nations would no longer be able to use currency policies to the disadvantage of American workers and businesses.”

In a similar vein, the US government mid-May 2019, changed the rules for the issuance of visasto Nigerians, a development one tabloid captioned: ‘Trump tightens US visa rules for Nigerians with drop box ban.’ Under the new rules, “all applicants in Nigeria seeking a non-immigrant visa to the United States must apply online and will be required to appear in person at the US embassy in Abuja or US Consulate General in Lagos to submit the application for review.” The new rules came under the US New Immigration Policy (NIP) tagged “Build America”, which seeks to increase the standard of security of visa application to prevent people of questionable reputation, economic immigrants and people without travel history from getting US visa. But as the title aptly says: “Build America” signposts barefaced nationalism, exclusionism and deliberate reduction in the number of Nigerians entering the US. And today it is visa, tomorrow who knows what instrument Washington will use.

Statistics show that Nigeria accounted for over 25 per cent of non-immigrant US visas issued to Africans in 2018 alone—but this is bound to change with the new order. Already, the Nigerian government is reported to have protested the new rules—but to no avail. Who knows the fate of other African countries, as the ‘nationalism hurricane’ keeps spreading. Will AfCFTA offer any reprieve?
•Okeke, a practising Economist and Consultant, wrote from Lagos


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