Our target is to connect businesses at 2019 trade fair—LCCI chair
Gabriel Idahosa is the chairman of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry Trade Promotion Board. In this interview with Odinaka Anudu, he speaks on opportunities in the 2019 Lagos International Trade Fair.
Tell us about the theme of this year’s Lagos International Trade Fair?
The theme for the 2019 Lagos International Trade Fair has been established as ‘Connecting Businesses, Creating Values’. That is the theme, and this is the brand promise for the Lagos International Trade Fair, which has been established as our permanent brand promise and our annual theme.
Around this theme, we then develop a lot of programmes that will achieve that primary objective of ‘connecting businesses and creating value’.
Our target is to connect businesses with government and regulatory agencies; connect businesses with the state of Lagos; connect businesses with outside Nigeria and with outside Africa.
So, the entire focus is to create value for businesses and for other partners. So, the trade fair is also about creating values for all our partners— whether they are media, corporate or government institutions that are our major partners in enhancing an enabling environment for businesses.
What we want to do with the trade fair really is to enhance value creation to see that participants who come this year as exhibitors get sufficient businesses to encourage them to come back again, and to ensure that visitors get value from good products or services and learn about new things. The trade fair is not only about buying goods and services; it is also about learning a lot about the economy, our country and about the countries that come. Most of the countries that come have ‘Special Days’ where they exhibit their cultures and artistry. So, we get to know a lot of that.
You find out that in trade fair, a lot of children come from primary and secondary schools, and higher institutions. They come essentially to learn about the economy and the society because in 10 days, we often have between 500,000 to 600,000 visitors. We have up to 3,000 exhibitors from various countries. So, it is a large commercial and cultural experience for visitors and exhibitors because the exhibitors themselves get to meet people from other states and countries. So, that is all what the trade fair tries to achieve every year: Connecting more and more businesses and creating more and more value for everyone, including our media partners because we are all in it to develop our businesses.
The state of Lagos is not equally left out because, every year, this fair contributes to creating new businesses. A lot of the exhibitors coming for the first time either create a branch in Lagos or in Nigeria; or, have either a distributor or a representative. Some of them eventually build factories in Nigeria because of the original demand that was created from their first visit. We have several cases like that.
In terms of number, how many exhibitors are you expecting this year?
As we speak, more and more exhibitors are signing on. We have about 2,000 at the moment out of which about 300 are foreign exhibitors from 17 countries.
We have additional countries coming from Africa and some are still signing on as the days go by. Usually, up to the day before the event, we still have some more countries and exhibitors coming in.
Let us look at the impact of trade fair on the Nigerian economy.
Well, the trade fair actually started as a government project. Before the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry took over the event, government of Nigeria started the trade fair as a primary vehicle for promoting the country’s economy to attract foreign investors and showcase the opportunities. And it has done that exceedingly well from its original location somewhere in Bonny Camp (Lagos) and moving to various places within Lagos and then Tafawa Balewa Square, which is the venue of this year’s trade fair.
Every year, local businesses are able to expose their products. A lot of companies launch new products during the trade fair. A lot of foreign investors come to the trade fair for the first time and that is how they get to know how big Nigeria is. And from there, the first thing they will normally do is to look for distributors in Nigeria.
Many of the distributors of foreign products in Nigeria actually did not have to travel abroad to become distributors. They make contacts during our trade fairs.
As we speak, in the last five years, a country like Japan has started attending the trade fair and as a result of that attendance, about five Japanese factories now operating in Nigeria were set up just because of their first experience about five years ago. They told us at that time that because of distance and language, they did not have much knowledge about Nigeria. But since that time, when Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) invited the Japanese business community and supported them to set up, they have been coming every year. They have one of the biggest halls of 2250sqm of space which they take every year from that first experience. There are number of Japanese companies here in Lagos and Ogun states, including a large construction company.
In Japan, they really did not have a lot of information about this county beyond certain highlights they see in international media about one bad news or the other about Nigeria and Nigerians. Their coming to trade fair opened their eyes to the opportunities. So, that is one of the pieces of evidence about the impact on the economy.
This year, we have 7,700sqm of space taken by Chinese exhibitors. This is double of what they normally take. And that is because of the annual impact on experience. Chinese companies that came through trade fair in previous years have established in Nigeria now.
So, it speaks for itself the amount of additional space they continue to take. Last year, the Chinese took 4,200sqm of space. This year, they have taken 7,700sqm of space, which is double.
Remember that these are hardnosed businessmen who do not throw away one naira of their money. It is just the experience of what they have seen in previous visits.
You know that the Chinese have some free trade zones in Ondo State and are doing some in the East. Most of it is as a result of previous participation. During the special days, both Chinese and Japanese tell us how the history of their businesses in Nigeria.
Beyond promotion, do you have mechanism to checkmate the quality of products these investors actually bring to the country?
Well, our research department essentially gathers data about participation, pre and post the fair. But as an organisation, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce is not a regulatory body. It is an association to promote and advocate good business environment. So, what we do is to attract these investors. Here in the trade fair, all the regulatory agencies are here: the Customs, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and so on. We give them the opportunity to interact. These regulatory agencies also have their special days here.
In the same trade fair, the investors get to meet the regulatory agencies who take the opportunity to tell them the regulations, procedures, guidelines and laws to conform with, for doing business in Nigeria. The CAC is always around every year and register businesses here on the spot.
So, from the very beginning of coming into Nigeria through the Lagos International Trade Fair, they (foreign investors) are exposed to all the regulatory agencies. Even bringing goods to display at the trade fair, the Customs, NAFDAC, SON and other agencies must clear the quality of those goods even though they are coming for trade fair. We facilitate that by sending the names of all the exhibitors to the Customs, SON and Immigration for their visa and for checking of the quality of the products before they come in.
How will MSMEs thrive within the trade fair environment?
The first thing we do for MSMEs is that we give them massive discount. What they pay is not what the big companies pay for space. We give them a massive discount.
Secondly, we aggregate them in an area where they can have visibility. This is because if we scatter the MSMEs around, they may not have visibility, so we aggregate them in a place. Even though they are enjoying high discount, they equally have a lot of visibility. There is no way one comes to the trade fair without passing through their hall because they are all at one place with their products segregated into mini sectors.
Besides, in the promotional activities we do, we highlight them. All the different MSMEs groups are incorporated. In addition, this year, UBA has a special discount for MSMEs participating in the fair.
These are some of the visibility we give them so that they will get full benefit from participation. Remember, they are the economy, not those big names you hear. We have a lot of programmes for MSMEs. We try to organise access for fund for them. We run training programmes for them all year round. That is the way LCCI nurture MSMEs.
The chamber just launched the Creative, Entertainment and Sport Group. How much are we expecting to see from them in the coming fair?
We realised they are aspects of the economy that have had sufficient attention a long time. So, we created the new group, ‘Creative, Entertainment and Sport Group’ in the chamber. As expected, the entire stakeholders are very excited about it.
You know that recently, the Federal and Lagos governments have agreed to take over the National Theatre to develop a creative park.
Three years ago, we had a creative fair inside the Lagos International Trade Fair. So this year, we do not know how much visibility they will have in the trade fair because they are less than three months old as a sector. But we expect that definitely, next year we would have worked with stakeholders and we will see what can happen.
For us at the trade fair, we really happy to have a hall for the creative industry on the fair grounds that take creative, entertainment and sports. It is something that could happen, coming next year, but depending on how that engagement goes.