• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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President Tinubu’s template has restored investors’ confidence in Nigeria’s economy – Uzoka-Anite, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment

President Tinubu’s template has restored investors’ confidence in Nigeria’s economy – Uzoka-Anite, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment

Doris Nkiruka Uzoka-Anite graduated in medicine at the University of Benin in March 1999 and has attended several training courses, including the University of Oxford (Oxford Fintech Programme 2019), the Oxford Algorithmic Trading Programme, the Advanced Risk and Portfolio Management Institute (ARPM), and the and the London Academy of Trading. She was admitted to TRIUM (New York University, Stern School of Business, HEC Paris, London School of Economics and Political Science) in 2021. She also holds the prestigious Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter. As Group Treasurer of Zenith Bank Plc, she achieved exceptional results, especially during the global financial crisis, by deploying advanced financial engineering and financial risk management strategies to orchestrate complex financial transactions that propelled the bank towards unparalleled profitability, despite the prevailing economic challenges. She has been involved in several presidential committees, such as the Secretary of the Presidential Economic Committee, the Secretary of the Presidential Food Security Council, the Member of the Presidential Strategy Team, and the Member of the National Economy Subcommittee, Policy Advisory Council. She has been the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment since 2023, having been appointed by President Bola Tinubu in 2023.

In this exclusive interview with BusinessDay’s Bashir Ibrahim Hassan, GM, Northern Operations, Dr. Uzoka-Anite highlights her performance over the past one year.

What are your major accomplishments, and what has been the vision and plan driving what you do?

Our vision is the vision of Mr President: to create 50 million jobs for Nigerians within eight years. We are supposed to formulate policies, frameworks, and strategies to achieve this within my own mandate. For industries to thrive, you need investments and an enabling trade policy. So, what we did was to take each one of the pillars and define what our goals would be to achieve that mandate. For investment, you need an enabling trade policy. What we did was to take each one of the pillars and define what our goals would be to achieve that mandate. We have our investment strategy, which is to identify the investable opportunities, map them out, and have a plan so that investors can easily put their money in. We are in the process of doing that. We have also gotten investment commitments of at least $30 billion and counting. More people are coming in and still pledging. That shows a lot of optimism and excitement for the economy and for Nigeria. Nigeria is a huge country blessed with vast natural resources and human resources, in particular. And a lot of people are looking at tapping into the potential of Nigeria and making these commitments, and we are also excited to receive them, and we are creating the enabling environment for them on trade as well.

We started by making sure that we facilitated all bilateral trade agreements with countries, because trade is within countries and between countries. It is very important for us because we want to be more of an exporting country than an importing country. If you want to diversify away from exports, you must create market access, make sure that you have the right agreements and support, and export the right products to the right place. When I say exporting the right products, I mean diversifying away from exporting raw materials to exporting value-added products. That way, we are more competitive, and we earn more for each unit of export that we do.

We also got the WTO’s support, especially for digital trade and trade intelligence. With this, we can now develop and roll out our e-commerce strategies and platforms for all our SMEs to sell on and have more access to the global community. It is also supporting us in capacity development and, more importantly, reducing the non-tariff barriers to trade. So, most of our export rejections are due to sanitary and phytosanitary non-compliance with standards. That is an issue where the exports you have do not comply with the standards set by the country that is buying your product; either we have too many pesticides, weevils, or chemicals in our agricultural exports. The standard trade development facility support from the WTO is helping us to actually improve the standard of goods that we export. To further reduce the barriers to trade, we have now launched the enhanced Nigerian trade facilitation committee, which has a sharper focus. We are working hand in hand with customs, and I am a co-chair of the committee, which also includes several other MDAs, giving it an inter-ministerial profile. We are working to ensure that we take away all barriers to trade, using policies and soft and solid infrastructure, such as rail and roads, to remove barriers to trade and improve access to markets.

On industry, which includes petrochemicals, oil, and gas, we identified the peculiar challenges of each of the industries. We have engaged multiple stakeholders—more than 30—to identify what their problems are and find solutions. Recall that the President launched the Presidential Council on industrial revitalization. To revitalise industries, you will do an industry mapping. We want to start with the automotive sector and the cotton, textile, and garment value chains. We are now working in partnership with AfreximBank to identify the value chain. We want to ascertain their problem and why Nigeria can’t produce its own cars. We have all the raw materials—steel, aluminium, and glass; we have cotton, leather, rubber, etc.; indeed, we have everything that goes into making the components of a car. We have the technology and the skills as well. If you go to Nnewi, they produce parts there. If you go to Owode, a trading hub for spare parts, you will still see people who produce small electronics and other small things for cars. We are producing our own air filters, oil filters, fuel filters, and tyres. We brought all the car manufacturers, the suppliers of the raw materials, and the component parts together in one room and gave them the mandate that we must produce our own car.

How soon do we see that happening?

We told them that everybody must come together and sign an MOU—the car manufacturers should sign an offtake agreement with the suppliers of the components and with those who are doing leather in Kano. The MOU is going to be signed by June, and by December, we should produce one vehicle. Even if it’s Keke NAPEP we start with, we are fine. Let us produce from beginning to end.

Let’s step back a bit. This administration came in when the economy was in the doldrums, and you were faced with the task of opening the nation’s investment in a period of economic uncertainty. How did you rise to the challenge?

You are absolutely correct; the economy at the time we came in was very bad. It was actually very difficult for a lot of investors, especially in the local manufacturing sector, because there were so many issues. But Mr President already knew some of these issues. Prior to our coming in, one of the concerns of foreign investors was the persistent PMS subsidy that was still in the fiscal budget, which was a drain on the economy. And then there was also the regime of multiple exchange rates. The President decided to do away with the PMS subsidy and then unify the exchange rate to boost investors’ confidence. And you know that with every reform, even if you are doing a minor house reform, there will always be uncertainty, and there will be casualties.

Then it fell on me to come up with appropriate trade and investment strategies that would pull investors in, improve their confidence, and all that. But to Mr President’s credit, he undertook to travel the world to assure major countries and major allies of Nigeria of the reforms that he was implementing and the expected impact of these reforms. This yielded positive results. In every country we went to, he met with a lot of investors. Mr President answered all the questions they asked. So, we, at business forums, engaged with investors, answered their questions, and provided the solutions. And, as you can see, the prices of goods are coming down, FX is stabilising, and the monetary policy of the Central Bank has sanitised the banking sector. Inflation is moderating, and we are now seeing the effects of the reform that the president instituted on his first day in office. Things take time to stabilise; it is like stirring water in a pond. When it settles, you can fetch the clean water. Now that we are settled, we are ready to take advantage of the multiple policies and reforms to jumpstart the economy.

So, I think we are in a very good position now to see a boost in investments. Even in this period of doldrums, we have already attracted about $30 billion in investment commitments, as I mentioned. And then recently, we announced an expression of interest prior to the launch of the Nigeria Diaspora Fund to attract more investments from the Nigerian disposable community and other institutional investors, both domestic and foreign. Local investors also increased their investment commitments in Nigeria—Coca Cola, Unilever, Bharti Airtel, etc. They are increasing their investment commitment because there’s optimism about the future of the country.

A lot of Nigerians would like to know what you are doing in terms of ease of doing business. There are a lot of bureaucratic bottlenecks in trying to establish a business, from the small-scale to the larger-scale industry. What are you doing about this situation?

For us, we would look at ease of doing business that concerns trade, especially within the purview of the Corporate Affairs Commission. We have ensured that they digitise all their processes, and now we have a 24-hour online registration platform available for businesses or business owners who want to take advantage of the websites. And we have cleared all the backlog of registrations we had. So, everything is seamless now. On other fronts, we are pioneering and championing digitising all our processes. And recently in the trade area, we just launched the enhanced National Trade Facilitation Committee to remove the technical and non-technical barriers to trade to increase the ease of transporting finished goods from point of production to point of sale—exports or even imports, whichever way it is—to free up the markets.

Lagos, for example, is one of the worst places to do business in the country but has the most investments and opportunities. How do you hope to deal with this?

Lagos has infrastructure, being the former nation’s capital where the federal government built roads and an industrial base in particular. It attracted a lot of people and became a centre of excellence. And although the capital moved to Abuja, Lagos is still enjoying the legacy investment. The headquarters of all banks are in Lagos State, as are the headquarters of most oil companies. Therefore, Lagos needs more attention to make it easier for people to do business. The major bottleneck is the traffic gridlock because it’s a small state with a huge population density.

A lot of people are still worried that the nation’s economy is still largely import-driven rather than export-based. That has put a lot of pressure on our foreign exchange earnings. What’s your take on this?

Two things: it’s been largely import-driven because of a lack of infrastructure, which increases the cost of doing business and production. When your cost of doing business or the cost of producing a good is higher than the cost of the goods that are produced outside your country, you will see people take advantage of the price differential. The first thing we are doing is identifying the bottlenecks in this low-cost production environment, whether roads, electricity, rail networks, etc. There is also soft infrastructure, like the right policies and reforms. Then you talk about taxes and levies and the multiple checkpoints that people experience in transporting their goods or services. You also know that we don’t have enough transport and logistics companies; even the logistic companies that we have don’t have enough vehicles to transport goods and services. We will make targeted and deliberate efforts to remove all of those bottlenecks to reduce the cost of business and make our products more competitive. If you produce cheaper goods, there will be no incentive to import.

The second thing that we are doing is also increasing the appetite to add value for exports. We are import-dependent because, when you look at the volume of exports compared to the volume of imports in terms of dollar value, it appears we are importing more, especially more expensive finished goods, and exporting cheaper raw materials. Raw materials are cheap, but when you add value to them, they become more expensive to export. So, we are moving our attention away from exporting raw materials to exporting value-added goods. The export of services is another area that we are focusing on, but we will talk about that when we start talking about our trade in services and our talent export programme.

Where do we see this ministry in terms of more successes in the next two years?

What we are working on is to catalyse economic growth, especially through industrialization and trade. We want to trade the right products to the right partners; get the right value for your products; that’s where we talk about value addition; even develop more products; and create more access to markets.

In a few words, what legacy do you want to leave behind?

A better economy—that’s what we will leave behind—more jobs. Mr President promised 15 million jobs. We are creating them. I want to promise Nigerians that under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration and, of course, with myself as a Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment, we intend to bequeath Nigerians a fully industrialised nation where the cost of goods produced will be cheap and available and that our standard of living will improve; that we can create jobs, empower, and improve the standard and lives of all Nigerians. That’s our target, and we are going to make it happen.