We want to understand Nigeria better and deepen trade with Taiwan- Ambassador
Taiwan is a democratic nation of 24 million people with the determination and resilience to succeed. The country’s major export is technological equipment. This year marks 31 years since the establishment of its trade mission in Nigeria to grow the business relationship. In 2021, both countries had a combined trade volume of $1 billion. The Taiwanese Ambassador to Nigeria, ANDY YIH-PING LIU, who is equally representative of the Taiwan Trade Office in Nigeria, spoke to BusinessDay on how the trade relationship between both countries can be enhanced, its political and business relationship with China and more. DANIEL OBI brings the excerpts:
How would you describe the relationship between Taiwan and Nigeria?
This year marks the 31st anniversary of our trade mission, which started in Nigeria in 1991. The Taiwanese government was approached by the former Nigerian head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, in the 1990s, inviting us to set up a mission in Nigeria. Although Nigeria and Taiwan had no diplomatic relations at that time, the Nigerian government was practical in seeing Taiwan set up a trade mission in Lagos so that the trade and business relations could grow between Nigeria and Taiwan without the formal ties. For the last 31 years, the trade relationship has grown so well.
What is the volume of trade between the two countries?
Last year, 2021 marked the first $1 billion in trade volume between Nigeria and Taiwan. Even during the COVID period last year, trade volume increased by 200 percent. The trade volume indicates how much we need each other. We import quite a lot of Nigeria’s agricultural products such as sesame and groundnut because we have a strong demand for good quality agricultural products as raw materials for our kind of food industry. At the same time, we export so much of our technology, either information technology products to Nigeria or petrochemical products. We have no oil, but we import crude and we turn it into petrochemicals in our refinery. Another export which started in the 1980s and 90s were our car and motorcycle parts. Nigerians assembled our parts into a real product. Currently we export them, but we have one major export, which is car tyres. We have a very strong name called Maxxis. It is a Taiwanese car tyre company in Nigeria.
We have had a lot of training programmes for Nigerian experts in various professional backgrounds, like doctors, nurses, and information technology experts
Could you give us more details on the balance of trade?
Nigeria has a trade surplus of the total volume of trade. We import more Nigerian products, and that means we need to work hard to promote Taiwanese products in Nigeria.
Which country is your biggest trading partner globally?
Our biggest trading partner is China. We speak the same Mandarin Chinese language; we eat the same food; we have different mentalities, but we do business. Though a military standoff is not a confrontation, they know that they cannot invade us and we know that we cannot do anything to them.
Then how do you think the Nigeria and Taiwan can deepen the relationship so that the volume of trade will increase?
There are two major things that both the Nigerian and Taiwanese governments are working on now. The first one is to have a renewal of the mutual investment protection agreement. That agreement was signed in 1994. The Nigerian government approached us for the renewal. Your government works so hard as it has concluded that renewal with Singapore and others. In Asia, the Nigerian government has also approached South Korea for renewal of the mutual protection investment because investment will drive more job opportunities into Nigeria. It will also have an agreement with the Taiwanese Import and Export Bank to provide $5 million in trading guarantee loans for any Nigerian or Taiwanese traders for mutual trading. Our embassy needs to facilitate the channel of doing good business. NACCIMA, which is an umbrella trading agency in Nigeria, is now working with us to have an upgrade and renewal of the MoU. We have also made connections with other chambers of commerce and industry so that members of such trading associations in Taiwan can benefit from recommended traders under NACCIMA or chambers of commerce in Nigeria to avoid trade fraud.
In terms of human capital exchange, do you see opportunity for both countries?
We have had a lot of training programmes for Nigerian experts in various professional backgrounds, like doctors, nurses, and information technology experts, to travel to Taiwan in the last 15 years. Those who have been trained in Taiwan have formed Taiwan alumni and that has become a bridge towards having more Nigerian professionals in different backgrounds travel to Taiwan either for agriculture, industrialisation, medical or any other training. Taiwan can equally come to Nigeria as your country is a big country. We want to understand more things about Nigeria, especially its democracy and human rights commission. There is currently no government discussion on it, but we have sent individual invitations to ministries and departments.
Considering the cold relationship between Taiwan and China, are you thinking of re-directing your business activity, especially given your area of core interest which is production of semiconductors?
In the last one year, quite a lot of Taiwanese investments in China have moved their factory to South East Asia, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia because of the labour cost and due to lockdown in China over Covid which has hampered business activity in China. Most of our investment and trading agencies have moved out of China to South East Asia. At the same time, the US and Japan are strengthening their trading relationships with Taiwan. On August 1, 2022, Taiwan and the US launched the negotiation of a framework for trade for the 21st century. The US knows that Taiwan is the most trustworthy strategic partner for providing high-technology products. 70 percent of their safety and national security-related activity –military, intelligence and satellite – is dependent on Taiwan micro-chip. We are against any bullying, and the US wants to help us protect ourselves. China is still our number one trading market.
Do you see the Chinese interference as a mission to achieve one big country in that region?
They have been dreaming that for 70 years since they established their own government in Beijing in 1949, and since that year, China and Taiwan have gone separate ways. We have our own jurisdiction and they have their own jurisdiction over the whole of China. But none of us will interfere with each other because we split up, just as North and South Korea are still part of the same country but have different governments. We went separate ways after a civil war, and now we have transformed ourselves into a full-fledged democracy while China is still under a totalitarian communist government.
Nigeria is now in transition to a new government in May 2023, how does Taiwan view the whole journey?
Nigeria, just like Taiwan, was colonised and went through a civil war; we have moved into a full-fledged democracy by ourselves. Nigeria has the strong spirit to move the country forward. Both Nigeria and Taiwan don’t have colonial masters anymore. We are now the masters of our own fate. What we hope for Nigeria is to continuously have our trade mission in Nigeria and take Taiwan as an equal partner in trading under the WTO, so that at the same time we can have more exchange in education, culture, and other areas. Next year, we will have a Taiwanese film festival in Lagos so that Nigerians can appreciate Taiwanese culture.