Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechuckwu Enelamah, talks about efforts being made by the present administration to reset the Nigerian economy back to the path of sustainable growth. He spoke in Abuja with select journalists. Abdulwahab Isa was there. Excerpts :
What value addition would the Nigeria Office for Trade Negotiations give to Nigeria’s international trade position?
The Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiation (NOTN) has just been approved last month by the Federal Executive Council ( FEC). Why we decided to go in this direction is because trade is a very specialized area and it is becoming very technical and we found out that in order to put our best field forward when it comes to trade and trade negotiation; we need a body of experts, we need good experts to lead our negotiations.
Nigeria office for trade negotiation is just being setup now; it’s being approved and it would be operational in the next few weeks. The whole idea is that, it would be led by a Chief Negotiator and Trade Advisor. We have a candidate already but we would also have experts on trade from this ministry and other ministries that would advice the country and the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on trade.
Basically, some of the areas we will be looking at would be just thinking prospect. We are looking ahead, and we think that the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) is sorting out our relationship with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Europe with the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). We are also looking at some of the agreement we’ve entered into already like CET and ETLS. We would also be looking at the relationship with Europe in terms of Brexit and the likes. We will also be looking at some of the so-called Free Trade Agreement, or strategic trade agreement to help to create value chains, global value chains and regional value chains.
What that means essentially is that you are entering into agreements with other countries on how you add value to products that come to them, the way you are part of the total picture for producing finished goods. It is really trying to ensure that we go beyond passive trading to adding value in our trade relationships and i think you will find out that it also ties into all the other policies of government, made in Nigeria or made in NAIJA or buy NAIJA because what you are trying to do is to increase value added in Nigeria.
It also ties into the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which is essentially about creating jobs, about agriculture, agro processing and agro value chain and about industrialisation.
It also ties into our emphasis on SMEs; because SMEs ultimately need help from their countries and their governments to make sure that their products are adding as much value as possible and are getting the best price possible . The price between value added products and raw products is dramatic. This is why in Africa, we’ve often suffered from selling raw materials and the commodity circles and the burst boom circles. I think the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiation will be very helpful in addition to what we are doing already.
Nigeria has been having trade negotiations and entering trade agreements all this while. What is the importance of NOTN.
There are many reasons. We have been suffering what we call the ‘coordination deficit’, which means we are not well coordinated as a country in terms of trade negotiations. It basically means that the level of coordination has being poor in different MDAs of government when it comes to trade.
Trade is a very wide-ranging subject as you know and different people conduct trade in different shades and forms. As a country, we need to have common positions on trade. Now related to that coordination deficit, is this idea of agreeing on what are those common positions and having a repository or a place where they fully understand our strategic positions on key issues so that thing we are coordinating support the different agencies. So, we are speaking with one voice as a country.
A country needs to have a strategic direction. Look at the ERGP for instance, what does it means for trade? Somebody needs to master that and make sure that we enter into negotiations in line with the plan.
The need for expertise makes NOTN imperative. Rather than trying to reproduce expertise in every agencies and departments, there is certainly synergy and it makes sense to have experts that you keep training and helping them to stay current.
This is not unique to Nigeria. Other countries have done it as well but the important thing is that by so doing, it strengthens our position, it doesn’t weaken it. In the past, we’ve had trade agreements that have not really been properly completed and implemented. Having people who work with the various operational agencies, department and ministries of the government, It is a lot easier to follow through and being able to understand all what our commitments are.
They will also build a data base agreement. There are several other reasons but these are the more important ones.
Will the Office be a pool or you will only train experts and still leave them to remain in their various MDAs?
It’s going to be an agency of the government that is focused on trade negotiation; it is called Nigeria office for Trade Negotiation. And we would have a limited number of experts. Some people are of the opinion that Nigeria lacks expertise to negotiate trade agreements in her favour.
The gentleman who is leading this efforts, Amb. Chidi Osakwe has been at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for close to 20 years. Before then, he spent about 15 years or more in Foreign Service. He is a trade expert and understands the technicalities and the language of trade. There are other people who have received similar training and exposures. Part of what we are doing now is to identify them and pool them together. We will also be undertaking training and equipping others with tools of negotiation.
We are going to be training people, we are going to be helping them get the necessary exposure and the necessary skills and tools for negotiations. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ is not negotiation.
That is the elementary form of negotiation. In fact, most people would tell you, get into saying ‘yes’ or everything is negotiable. I used to be a student of negotiation myself. So it is not about saying ‘no’. In fact, negotiation teaches you that ‘no’ is not the answer to negotiation; the answer to negotiation is ‘what do you want?’. The person that says ‘no’ hasn’t said what he wants and people always want something and negotiation is the process of getting what you want and that is what we would be doing.
What is your strategy on the Ease of Doing Business as this administration tries to diversify the economy?
Our strategy as a country is to diversify away from oil. Not that oil is not important, but we cannot stand on one leg. We are blessed to have oil. But we cannot depend on one commodity. Therefore in order to diversify away from oil, we need to address other areas, especially industries, services and SMES to get into different businesses and trade.
Without any iota of doubt, what government needs to do to make it easier for people to do business is to create the right environment, to lower the cost of doing business; to make the process of getting approvals easier. That process is what this whole focus is.
We are saying let us diversify in theory; we are taking practical steps to make economic diversification a reality.
Government has been working on the Ease of Doing Business since last year when the president launched the Presidential Ease of Doing Business Council. The vice president, chairs it with some of ministers, 10 ministers – the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Head of Service. It has a secretariat called the Enabling Business Secretariat and it has been working on several initiatives on how to ease doing business in Nigeria.
In fact, it came up recently with the 60-day National Action Plan to deal with business registration, construction permit, trading across borders and the likes so that we can improve on our Ease of Doing Business rating. This will enable people view our country as a business-friendly environment.
The Executive Orders were passed as an extension of this work. Two weeks ago, the Acting President signed three Executive Orders: Executive Order 001 was on Transparency and Ease of doing Business. The purpose of that executive Order is to make the system wide. Every agency of government should be very clear on what people need to get approvals in terms of time requirements, fees to be paid and where a person can expect an approval or a rejection. Those should be published on their websites and public places so that people can be aware.
The second leg is on the modalities for approvals provisions. What it provides for is that, for any reason you don’t get back to the people. What it means is that silence is consent. Therefore, the onus is on the public servants to tell people why they don’t qualify for something rather than the other way round where you don’t hear from me, it means you don’t qualify. It is a clear signal to the public that we’re here for you. That we are here to render service. It is a clear signal that the government is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Number three goes further and deals with the principle of one government. What that means is that, if you are getting an approval from a government agency or department and there is something that is required and the original copies of the document are in another government agency, that original agency should take the responsibility to get it from the other agency because we are all agencies of one government, rather than telling the applicant to go and bring.
All you need to do is to provide evidence that such a document exists. It could be a photocopy or any other thing and the other agency would liaise with the other. You know when the government agencies liaise with each other; they are a lot more supportive of each other. The whole idea is to make it easier to do business.
How is government really going to ensure that these things are carried out?
Let me start by quoting the acting president when he addressed civil servants last week (penultimate week). He said it’s a new day. It’s only a person who is insensitive, inattentive or unwise that will treat these executive orders as business as usual. As I speak to you today, there is another session going on with the senior civil servants explaining how the orders will work or operate. They are brainstorming and working on it. So, the first thing today is that these are rules and regulations of engagement of government and the civil servants understand the importance of rules.
Number two is the reason why we are having meeting like this to make the public be made and the citizens are empowered with information and understanding of their right so that they, in effect, can demand those services, because that is what the law says.
The third thing to say is that, like if you read the executive orders carefully, they include sanctions and consequences and who is responsible. For instance, it says each authority, the head of that agency would be held accountable and I can tell you that in my ministry, we have already met to talk about how to implement.
There is no need of enlisting task force implementing bodies; there are a number that are already doing that. There is an agency of government called SERVICOM that is clearly there on how to provide service to the public.
Can you explain how this ease of doing business will work at the port?
That’s executive order 001 and one of the first things I would say is that the media especially would need to understand the orders and publicize them. What the executive orders says exactly about ports is that there shall be no touting whatsoever by officials or unofficial persons at any port in Nigeria and all non-official staff shall be removed from the secured areas of the airport, those are directives, rules, commands given to people. So, if you see somebody who is not an official, already they are breaking the rules and you have every right to report it.
Another one is that, any official caught soliciting or receiving bribes from passengers or other port users shall be subject to immediate removal. We need citizen activism and it is serious. Our citizens tolerate far too much. Why would somebody extort money from you against the rule and you can’t do anything?
It says any official caught soliciting or receiving bribes from passengers or other port users shall be subject to immediate removal from posts and disciplinary as well as criminal proceedings in line with extant laws and regulations. Merge departure and arrival interfaces at the airport into a single customer within 30 days without prejudice to necessary back end procedures. It also says, harmonise operations of all MDAs of government physically present at the port into one single interface – meaning station or desk domiciled in one location in the port and implemented by a single joint tax force at all times without prejudice to necessary backend procedures within 60 days. It also says assign an existing airport terminal, to be dedicated to the exportation of agricultural produce.
This is about single window and single interface as well, trying to leverage technology to make sure that all the people who have responsibilities in the port can do it electronically, through a portal.
Has this order come into operation?
You just heard when I said 60 days and 30 days. It has been signed, we have started counting already.
What is government doing about expatriate quota?
The point is that we have a responsibility to ensure that we control influx of people in a way that is responsible without becoming an island nor adversarial especially for countries like China who have indicated very clearly that they want the good of Africa and Nigeria. They said if you don’t have funds, we have surplus funds and we will give you. It’s an act of friendship and it has to be accepted; and that is why the president said that China is friend of Nigeria because we are trying to rebuild our infrastructure. The infrastructure he met when he was here in the 70s were good and the president’s vision is for us to return or do better than that. If you look at the money involved, you are talking about tens of billions of dollars to build up our railways across Nigeria; our highways and power sector and the Chinese have said they would support that, that is fine, nothing against it.
What is government doing about our export rejects especially to Europe and US?
One thing about trade export is, we live in a world where you have to be competitive and you have to give the world acceptable products. Everybody has a right to export without sort of meeting the baseline, that is one point. The second point is, there is also a lot of gamesmanship that goes on – what they call non-tariff barrels where they come up with barriers to trade, where they come up with rules. We have to be proactive in engagement. Trade is about engagement, which is why we need our trade experts to engage our markets. Markets are not impassible and they will point out what is wrong, but I believe that it is that engagement that leads to the successes. So, I think the thing to understand is that it is more trade engagement, more negotiation; it is not a matter of being passive . The government has some role and the quality assurance certification bodies have a role to make sure that what we are exporting meets standards.