INTERVIEW – AMBASSADOR OF BELGIUM TO NIGERIA H.E. Daniel Bertrand

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Your Excellency, how do you view the bilateral relations between Belgium and Nigeria?

The bilateral relations between our countries are excellent and based on mutual respect and a firm determination by both sides to deepen our friendship and ties in all sectors (cultural, economic, social, trade,…). I would like to thank the Nigerian authorities for their warm welcome. Rapidly, I succeeded in establishing excellent and fruitful relations not only with the Nigerian Government at all levels but also with the Nigerian busi-ness and financial circles, the Nigerian civil society and the Nigerian people in general. Unsurprisingly, by my Nigerian counterparts, Belgium is often considered a key player in the European Union and a center of knowledge and knowhow, while in Brussels and Abuja, we are well-aware of Nigeria’s status as economic and political heavyweight not only in West African but also in African at large. Moreover, our bilateral commercial exchanges have rebounded strongly after a difficult Covid-19 period. There is, however, always more that can be done to further intensify our relations, for instance in the fields of agricultural research and higher education. That is why I really appreciated the visit of a delegation of Ghent University to Lagos and Abuja in June. Together with my counterpart in Brussels, His Excellency Obinna Onowu, I continuously try to stimulate this kind of exchanges and visits.

What is your impression of the current socio-economic situation in Nigeria?

Nigeria is the first economic power in West Africa and a real heavyweight at the conti-nental level. The potential is so promising, especially in the agricultural, ICT, infrastruc-ture sectors without mentioning harbour facilities. This country is so impressive by its dimensions, its cultural diversity, the dyna-mism and the creativity of its population. Having said that, one cannot deny that, at the moment, Nigeria’s economy is facing serious challenges as most of African econ-omies: rising foodstuff prices, world inflation, access to fertilizers,…. As a result, the poor and the middle class have to overcome the consequences of growing inflation and a sluggish economic growth. Furthermore, the country’s economic potential is constrained by structural issues, such as insecurity, insufficient or deficient infrastructure and lack of access to foreign exchange. In this context, My advise is to develop a long-term strategy when analysing opportunities in Nigeria. The country has everything to respond to the aforementioned challenges and will excel in the long-term: natural resources, financial capital, an amazing entrepreneurial spirit and a very driven, hard-working, increasingly skilled, young population striving to change Nigeria for the better.

What are the key sectors in which you would advise Belgian investors to invest in Nigeria?

As His Excellency, President Buhari, said, diversification of the Nigerian economy is a priority of the Nigerian Government. As a result of that voluntarism, there are so many opportunities to develop bilateral ties, in particular in the agriculture sector (agricul-tural research , transformation of agricultural products), in the infrastructure, in the ICT filed where complementarity between Belgium and Nigeria are obvious. In addition to that, as creativity is a common charac-teristics of our both countries, I would sug-gest some ideas. As access to electricity is a problem for example, why not looking into possibilities for renewables? The same goes for other sectors: infrastructure, health, agriculture, food-processing, etc. The demo-graphic growth in Nigeria means that the needs in these sectors will only grow; that is also why these sectors receive support from the Nigerian government, what makes them even more attractive. Having said that, I would like to emphasize the fact that the challenging business environment in Nigeria means that a decision to invest or enter the market, with the right (niche) product or service offered in the right way, should not be taken lightly. Nevertheless, the margins in Nigeria can make a well-prepared decision definitely worth your while.

Can you give us an overview of the upcoming Flanders Investment & Trade mission to Lagos and Abuja? What role will the embassy play during the mission?

The mission organized by Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) will run from Monday 17th October to Friday 21st October. The delegation will start with a day in Abuja and will then travel for Lagos for two to three days. The Embassy will facilitate meetings with Nigerian high officials and international organizations (the B2G part), especially those based in Abuja, and to assist FIT with all sorts of practical and logistical questions. Together with FIT, we also plan to organize a reception in both Abuja and Lagos in order to create additional networking opportuni-ties. The B2B part and other elements of the Lagos part of the program, such as a visit to a Belgian company, will be organized solely by FIT. As Ambassador, my goal is to sup-port FIT and the members of the delegation as much as possible so as to turn this mission into a success story for everyone, especially for the strengthening and deepening of our bilateral ties.