Trade between Nigeria and Belgium has over the years continued to blossom albeit to the advantage of Belgium as it maintains a lead in business transactions and balance of trade between our two countries. Nigerian entrepreneurs, though hampered by the challenges of compliance with stringent European Union food safety standards for mostly agricultural produce they export to Belgium, have steadily maintained interest in the Belgian market. Cognisant that the potentials for the export of agricultural food produce to Belgium are huge, relevant government agencies are determined to put in place the required checks as well as build capacity of small and medium scale entrepreneurs to meet the expectations of the European market.
- It is equally important and worthy to note that a number of Belgian companies are collaborating with some Nigerian entrepreneurs in the production of palm oil, carpet making, banking and financial services as well as in the production of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. There are currently over forty Belgian firms investing in Nigeria. These include OK Free Trade Zone, presently engaged in building of a new modern and deeper port in collaboration with the governments of Lagos Ogun, Osun and Ondo States; Dredging Environmental and Marine Engineering (DEME) which secured a 15 year maintenance contract for Onne and Bonny Ports among others, as well as Sluys International Belgium, which deals in production of beverages.
- In the area of capacity building, there is an excellent relationship between the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) and the Belgian Antwerp/Flanders Port Training Centre (APEC). APEC has been a useful partner in the ongoing efforts towards the diversification of the Nigerian economy to enable the country fully tap its huge economic potentials, and increase its internally generated revenue.
- Nigeria’s major export to Belgium is crude oil. The overt dependence of the Nigerian economy on the exportation of crude oil as well as the instability in the international price of crude oil left the Nigerian economy in a less than satisfactory state prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to commence an aggressive drive to diversify the economy. Similarly, with the resurgence of mineral commodity prices, Government has been exploring the option of mineral exploration to generate revenue to meet the needs for food security and job creation amongst others. Diversification activities necessitated the development of policy frameworks to ensure the efficient and effective utilization of the nation’s resources to improve the economy.
- In continuation of these efforts, in July 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari established the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) to address identified governance issues that hitherto hindered the ease of doing business in Nigeria. This council, headed by the Vice President, H.E. Prof. Yemi Osibanjo (SAN), in only one year, has successfully moved Nigeria up on the ladder of Ease of Doing Business index by 24 points according on the World Bank’s index of the ease of doing business.
- The construction and energy industries are equally of particular importance for their multiplier effects on the economy which in turn impacts the general livelihood of the populace. These sectors have close relationships with other segments of development such as, transportation, industrialisation, agriculture, financial, etc. However, these important areas remain largely untapped. Nigeria welcomes investments from Belgian companies in this regard.
- Nigeria’s population is a growing population with the youth constituting the largest demography. There is, consequently, a budding cinema culture in Nigeria with many of the cinemas showing almost fifty percent local movies. The Nigerian movie industry fondly called Nollywood is reputed to be the third largest movie industry in the world. Nollywood on an annual basis produces movies of global standard sometimes in collaboration with Hollywood movie production houses.
- It was estimated that Nollywood contributed about 1.4% of Nigeria’s GDP ($7.2bn) in 2016 and the industry is projected to increase to about $8.5bn in 2018. The industry and the rising cinema culture in Nigeria requires increased investment for larger financial benefits to accrue to the players in the industry. Government on its part through a multi stakeholder National Joint Action to Tackle Piracy, has commenced an aggressive anti-piracy campaign to effectively address the problem of piracy which had negatively impacted the industry. This approach to tackling piracy has started yielding tangible results. The success of Nollywood in spite of the problem of piracy shows how profitable the industry is for prospective investors.
- Since my assumption of duties as the Ambassador of Nigeria to Belgium, I have embarked on an extensive study of the Belgian economic and business community with a view to understanding the reasons for the low penetration of Nigerian Businesses in Belgium. This is to expand the number of items that could be exported from Nigeria to Belgium and Luxembourg on the one hand, and generally open up the areas where we could partner for beneficial economic activities.
- To begin to address this critical issue, the Embassy of Nigeria in Brussels, has taken deliberate strategic steps to explain and showcase Nigeria to the Belgian business community. Exposure to and interactions with Nigerian business entrepreneurs will bridge the gap, facilitate dialogue which would be important steps towards increased access into the Belgian market for Nigerian businesses. Undoubtedly, Belgium is a household name in Nigeria as many used motor vehicles and spare parts imported from Europe through the Port of Antwerp have become synonymous with quality and are preferred to those produced elsewhere.
- To help accelerate the laudable objective of improved access of Nigerian products, it would be necessary to provide technical assistance to both Nigerian farmers and businesses to help them produce, preserve and transport their goods to Europe in the internationally acceptable standards. Already Nigerian farmers are adopting new techniques in farming to enable them meet up with global standards. We are encouraged that these improvements have already started gaining international recognition. A Nigerian female farmer Ms. Evelyn Nwaru Ifebuchi was recently invited to Brussels and received one of the two 2016 Oxfam Female Food Hero Award. There is nonetheless, ample room for improvement in this area for sustainable development. More importantly, there is the need to build the production value chain and transfer technology from Belgium to Nigeria.
- The journey has begun and we are calling on the Belgian businesses to partner with Nigeria to build thriving industries, and businesses in all areas of the Nigerian economy. Our commitment is to go on the journey with you. As a first step, I am collaborating with the CBL/ACP to organise a business luncheon where top Nigerian business persons would participate and exchange views, experiences and ideas with their Belgian counterparts on doing business in Nigeria. The Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission would also provide detailed explanations on policy guarantees important to foreign investors as well as explain the efforts of the Nigerian Government in creating an enabling environment for local and foreign businesses. It is expected that this meeting would lead to a Belgian business Mission to Nigeria in 2018.
Ambassador Nonye Udo
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Kingdom of Belgium, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the European Union