The Director, Commodities and Export Department in the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment Suleiman Adebayo Audu in this exclusive interview with THE COMMERCE AFRICA speaks on the various initiatives being implemented by the department and how it has boosted commodity exports for Nigeria. EXCERPTS…
As a background, what is the mandate of the Commodities and Export Department of Federal Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment?
The Commodities and Export Department is one of the core Departments of the Ministry and more importantly is the fact that the Department’ s mandate include but not limited to ensuring best practices in the non-oil sector in order to attract investments, promoting the expansion of commodities business of the private sector; increasing value addition to all commodities; ensuring increased consumption of all locally produced commodities and products; and also develop the non-oil export potentials towards increasing the volume and values.
How are some of these mandates being implemented by the Department?
One thing to bear in mind is that Commodities and Export Department is one of the Policy arms of the Ministry. Therefore, some of these mandates are actualized and the effects can be felt from the performance of our Agencies and NEPC is one of such especially when we talk of the development of the non-oil export potentials toward increasing the export volume and values. We can see what this man did deriving from our interface with the Council.
The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) is the Agency of Government responsible for the promotion of non-oil exports. What is the level of support and collaboration that the Ministry is having with the Council?
I represent the Ministry on the Board of NEPC. Most of the activities of NEPC we are involved. Like today we were involved in their program on Forfaiting as an Alternative to Loans and Financing Infrastructure where I represented the Hon. Minister and delivered a keynote address. Under the Economic Sustainability plan, it was through the NEPC that the Ministry secured N50bn intervention fund under Export Expansion Facility where the Hon. Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment happens to be the Chairman of the Steering Committee.
I am also privileged to be a member of that particular committee. Through that committee, we have been able to recommend almost 38 of our Commodities Associations for funding support in terms of their budgets, work programs and the rest. From the feedback, we know that some of them have started getting some support from NEPC. So, to that extent, we can say that the Ministry and NEPC are working in collaboration and synergy and we ensure that our policies are mutually supportive and reinforces each other in terms of our mandate.
The Commodities and Export Department is a key partner in the implementation of the Zero Oil Plan of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. To what extent has the plan assisted in improving non-oil exports and boosting Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings?
The first thing to say is that the Zero-Oil plan is a blueprint which is very strategic in terms of non-oil export led economy in terms of Economic diversification agenda with an ambitious agenda that targets 20% of Nigeria’s GDP which is to be attributed to the non-oil export. More importantly, same as the realization of at least $30bn in non-oil export by 2025 including creating additional jobs of 500,000 annually.
Also, we have the outstanding Export Enabler Award which of recent was given to Olusegun Awolowo by the Hon. Minister which is also in recognition of the level of collaboration between the Ministry and NEPC particularly in driving the diversification of Nigeria’s Export portfolio and by also deepening the ability of our foreign missions to facilitate the export of commercial diplomacy.
There is also this significant initiative that the NEPC is implementing on behalf of Federal Government in terms of the Export Expansion Facility Program which also forms part of the Federal Government N2trn Economic stability plan. And under that, the NEPC is also working to set up Export Trade Houses particularly for SMEs in African regions and other Emerging markets in other to consolidate on the warehousing of Exportable Products In targeted markets abroad.
I think these are very interesting period for NEPC, for the Ministry, for the Country particularly for the in the context of African Continental Free Trade Agreement which also has the possibility of exporting our services up to about $4.7trn in a year and accounting also for about 19% of the world global export market. More importantly, it is also good to note that our ICT sector contributes more than oil and gas in terms of GDP. More importantly, the Service sector is now the arrowhead of Nigeria’s participation in the AfCFTA. I think to some extent, apart from the services sector, the non-oil Export is also contributing significantly to the diversification agenda of the present administration and revenue earnings.
The Zero oil plan identified 11 strategic products such as Cashew, Cocoa, beans, Rubber among others to boost exports. What role is the Commodities and Export Department playing in increasing the production of these commodities?
I think the number one thing is adding value to these commodities because instead of just exporting them raw. In fact, we are trying to increase the number beyond eleven because other products are of economic value in terms of ranking. We surely can do better by increasing the number. Of recent, we have been having engagements with our Commodities Associations. Each time we launch an association, we demand that they give us their work plan and this usually show their ambition for a period between 5-10years.Of recent, we challenged them to institute an annual kind of engagement with Commodities Associations where we can pick the best performing one to three to challenge them to do more in terms of promotion of their commodities and value addition.
As a country, we export raw materials and import finished products and this is impacting negatively on our foreign exchange, what would be your suggestions going forward to reverse this trend?
I think there are several initiatives that can be promoted aggressively. The first thing is to have the right policy, that is to have an export policy to guide the entire export process. We are also trying to identify the challenges faced by Nigerian exporters but in this particular case, the agro-exporters and how to overcome these challenges. We are organizing series of round table to deal with Commodities-based issues and sector specific commodities.
We are also trying to be creative in the department to have a ten-year ambitious roadmap in which we can drive the initiative of the department to promote value addition and connect our SMEs to the global market and incentivize those that are involved in commodities value chain. We intend to bring them to a platform where we can discuss their common problems and create common facilities for them that they can leverage on.
Last week we started having seminar for export trading companies which will hopefully add value to our products and commodities and make Nigeria a competitive global player.
The Federal Government is spearheading the export of non- oil products. Do we have enough capacity to meet up with international standards considering the challenges that businesses go through in Nigeria?
That is a critical and fundamental question to ask. It is part of the reason many Nigerian products are rejected in international markets. So, the issue of standards is very important, not only local but also international standards.
The issue of traceability is very important so that they can know that this product comes from Nigeria.
The issue of global best practices in agriculture and farm practices is also very important. The issue of ensuring that we create awareness in terms of standards expected of most of our commodities and what is required of those markets. It is something we will continue to build on in terms of capacity. We presently have a relative capacity now to be able to identify what the challenges and the bottlenecks are. As a matter of fact, we have started addressing some of the challenges in terms of coming up with policy options to deal with some of these specific challenges.
Going forward, what are some of the new initiatives that the Ministry through the Department will be implementing to promote exports?
The first one is to have the right policy. That right policy will be number one Commodities specific policy. I just had a discussion with the National President of Rubber Association who told me that before the end of the year, a draft policy on rubber will be in place. A ten-year development plan for Cocoa is in the offing. But beyond specific commodities policy, we are thinking of overall commodity policy.
All these are being done consistent with the slogan of Mr President to consume what we produce and encourage patronage of Made in Nigeria products and services.