1. I am delighted to be at your prestigious institute today to address this round-table. I wish to thank Mr. Tom Barry for helping to facilitate this event and for giving me this opportunity to address this august gathering of business leaders and policy-shapers. [Share an anecdote about relationship with Tom]. Hudson Institute has distinguished itself as a leading think-tank by the use of scenario-planning techniques to forecast long-term developments. This led to the Institute been at the fore-front of those that predicted the rise of Japan as the world’s second-largest economy; technological developments like portable telephones and network-linked home and office computers. I therefore see this round-table as an opportunity not just to speak to you; but to learn from you about how to strengthen the bilateral trade and investment relationship between Nigeria and United States of America relationship for our mutual benefit.
2. The United States has historically been one of Nigeria’s top trading partners; for decades, the US was the biggest importer of Nigeria’s crude oil. In the last five years, however, the sharp decline in US imports of our crude, on account of rising domestic production of Shale, has altered the trade balance between our two countries. This development presents us a good opportunity to explore and increase non-oil exports – especially in agricultural products, services and the digital economy – to the U.S.
3. Nigeria enjoys a mutually beneficial trade and investment relations with USA. This relationship has culminated in good inflow of Foreign Direct Investment into Nigeria. There are several US Companies doing business in Nigeria, including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, General Electric, IBM, Microsoft, Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Company, British-American Tobacco Company, UPS Courier Company, Mckinsey, Johnson Wax Nigeria Ltd, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, to name a few. In spite of the sizable number of US companies operating in Nigeria, we are still far from maximizing the potential of the bilateral relationship between our countries. It is my hope and belief that engagement with bodies like the Hudson Institute will help translate this potential into reality.
4. These are no doubt challenging times for the Nigerian economy. We have seen a significant decline in government revenue; challenges with attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); and slow down of the economy among other things. However, let me use this opportunity to boldly affirm our commitment to set the economy firmly on the path of true diversification, sustainable economic growth, and shared prosperity. This commitment is not mere words or wishful thinking, it is built on the fundamentals of the economy and the reforms that we have begun to implement.
5. Since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration in 2015, all efforts have been aimed at ensuring that all Nigerians enjoy rising standards of living. Mr. President campaigned for and came into office on the back of three fundamental issues: One, Securing Nigeria from terrorism, Two, Fighting corruption and ensuring that public funds work for the public good, and Three, Revamping an economy that was severely dependent on crude oil, and afflicted by rising inequality and jobless growth. I am pleased to note that these efforts are yielding fruit.
6. (On Security) – Hundreds of communities and thousands of people have been liberated from the clutches of the terrorists and are now getting a chance to, with support from the government and the international community, rebuild their homes and their lives.
7. (On corruption) – Mr. President has led the effort through a combination of institution-building and judicial efforts, to ensure that public funds work for the public good. The Administration has signed up to the Open Government Partnership, a clear demonstration of commitment transparency. Mr. President has continued to strengthen the Government institutions responsible for this effort.
8. (On the economy) – We are weaning ourselves from a historical dependence on crude oil, diversifying our economy, and putting it on the path of sustainable and inclusive growth. To this end, we have embarked on policies aimed at establishing an open, rules-based and market-oriented economy. We will continue to actively engage with the private sector at the highest levels to listen to your concerns and to assure you of our commitment to creating enabling policies in which your businesses can thrive.
9. As the Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, responsible for Industry, Trade and Investment; I have mainly supported the Administration’s effort on the economy. Outlined below are four of the initiatives that we have started to implement to make Nigeria a more attractive place for U.S. businesses and investors. Namely:
I. Facilitate the creation of an enabling environment for Industry, Trade and Investment;
II. Improve Nigeria’s competitiveness for local manufacturing through the use of Special Economic Zones (SEZ);
III. Incentivize investors and businesses to invest in Nigeria;
IV. Increase bilateral cooperation with the United States Government
10. We aspire to make Nigeria one of the most attractive places to do business. Indeed, Mr. President constituted a Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council headed by His Excellency Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to work on a wide range of business environment reforms, ranging from improving the entry process into Nigeria, to ports reform, to improving the speed and efficiency of land titling and business registration. The visa process into Nigeria has now being revamped and citizens of strategic partner countries like the U.S. can now obtain visas in 48hours. The ultimate goal is to ensure that investors to Nigeria can obtain visas at the points of entry.
11. We are meeting the need for providing the appropriate hard infrastructure for industrialization through the use of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Our infrastructure need is huge and cannot be met instantaneously. Special Economic Zones provide a speedy means of providing world-class infrastructure for investors and businesses seeking to set up local manufacturing. Partnering with the private sector, we have begun the process of setting up 10 industrial parks across the country.
12. We have packaged some fiscal investment incentives, in order to encourage more private capital inflow. Some of this include up to 5 years of tax holiday for activities classified as ‘pioneer’; Tax-free operations; no restrictions on expatriate quotas in Free Trade Zones; Capital Allowances (Agriculture, Manufacturing and Engineering); a low VAT regime of 5 percent; among others. In addition, we the have export expansion grant (EEG) to incentivize businesses that produce in Nigeria for export.
13. We recognize that the growth of private businesses and enterprises depends on strong bilateral relationship between the Nigerian and United States governments. This informed the decision to announce the commencement of the U.S. – Nigeria Commercial and Investment Dialogue by President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2nd U.S. – Africa Business Forum in September last year. The U.S. – Nigeria Commercial and Investment Dialogue is the latest in series of bilateral engagements between the United States and Nigeria. This Dialogue, which will focus on Infrastructure, Agriculture, the Digital Economy, Investment and Regulatory Reform, will be jointly led by the Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, and the US Commerce Secretary, and will include business executives from both countries. By strengthening existing trade and investment ties between our two countries, as well as opening up new vistas, it will complement the work currently being done by the US-Nigeria Bi-national Commission, the US-Nigeria Trade and Investment Framework, and similar initiatives. We very much look forward to the mutual benefits that will accrue from this Dialogue.
14. Let me conclude by reiterating that the fundamentals of the Nigerian economy are compelling for investors seeking growth. These include a large domestic market of 180 million people; large youth population with potential for increased labor productivity; abundant natural resources; and strengthening democratic institutions. Apart from our domestic market of 170 million, the largest in Africa, we are also the main gateway to a combined West African consumer market that is about as large as ours. With a median age of 19, and with 70 percent of the population below the age of 35, Nigeria’s greatest potential lies in the talent and energy of her youth. The success of mobile telephony represents one of the possibilities that can be achieved in the Nigerian economy. The market grew from 400,000 users to over 150 million in less than five years; attracted over $35 BN; and returned tens of billions of dollars to investors.
15. Thank you for listening and I look forward to working with institutions like Hudson to grow the relationship between Nigeria and the United States for our mutual benefit.