Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in Central China, in December last year, some factories in China have remained closed, while workers have been forced to stay out of work as part of attempts by authorities to curtail the spread of the virus.
As China’s economy struggles with dealing with the virus, the economies of other countries are also being affected, directly or indirectly, by the pandemic.
In South Africa, where almost 90 per cent of harvested shrimps was exported to China, fishermen lamented the heavy decline in exports and how it has affected their livelihoods, according to a BBC documentary.
Nigeria is not exempted by this decline in trade with China due to the coronavirus.
Austin Okafor, a Nigerian trader at DEI DEI timber market in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, lamented the effect of the outbreak on his business.
Mr Okafor, an Abuja based contractor and an importer of building materials, such as nails, (ceiling) sheets and other building equipment which he imports from China, told PREMIUM TIMES that for now, goods available in his warehouse are products he had already purchased, months before the outbreak.
He also lamented that the prices of products have already increased.
”Most of the Chinese companies we buy our products from have already closed down,” he said.
“Many of the products we are selling and the ones that are coming from ports are the ones we have already bought before the outbreak.
”The outbreak has affected those that get contacts from government and (private) bodies. Prices have also gone up,” he said.
”We sell a carton of nails N11,800 before the outbreak. Now, we sell them for N13,000, We also used to sell a bundle of ceiling sheet for N11,400 before. Now, we sell for N13,500.
He added that, ”The number of goods in the market has reduced, and the ones that (we) are selling are the ones that (we had) already bought before the outbreak.”
China remains Nigeria’s biggest source of imports. About N1.99 trillion worth of goods were imported from the Asian country in the first half of 2019, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Nigeria imports different kinds of goods ranging from personal effects to industrial machinery and raw materials.
Also, Nigeria offers Chinese companies a diverse range of lucrative commercial and trade opportunities, as part of its attractive bilateral trade treaty between the two nations. As of May 2019, Chinese companies had invested $20 billion in over 150 firms in Nigeria.
Nigerian entrepreneurs make regular commercial pilgrimages to Chinese manufacturing cities like Guangzhou to buy bulk purchases at cheap prices.
According to data from the NBS, Nigeria’s imports from China hit ₦1.99 trillion in the first half of 2019. The country almost doubled total imports from China, rising by 88 per cent compared to the first half of 2018.
COVID-19 in Nigeria
On February 28, Nigerians woke up to the news that an unidentified Italian businessman who tested positive for the virus at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, had been taken to the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Yaba.
The Senate health committee had earlier asked the Federal Ministry of Health to set up a ‘Health War Room’.
The federal government has also released N386 million to two health agencies to curtail the spread of the virus.
Coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, broke out in Wuhan in Hubei province of China in December.
The disease has infected over 1716 medical workers in China alone and over 94,000 in 73 countries, causing no less than 3,200 death cases worldwide. The majority of the deaths were recorded in Wuhan.
Fear and the possibility of a scarcity
All the traders PREMIUM TIMES interviewed expressed fears that scarcity may hit the Nigerian markets in a few months’ time, if the outbreak persists.
Olawale Yusuf, a 40-year-old trader at the Amu Furniture Materials Market in Mushin, Lagos State, the commercial Hub city in Nigeria, complained bitterly on how the outbreak is affecting his business.
Mr Yusuf, who sells High-Density Fibreboard/Hardboard (HDF), and Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) noted that since the Covid-19 outbreak, he is yet to buy more materials into his warehouse.
He also predicted that by April, Nigeria would experience about 50 per cent of an increase in the price of board woods.
”Factories are closed down. We are just selling what we have purchased before the outbreak, although people are still getting products. But, those are the ones that have already been shipped into the waters of the Nigerian ports before the outbreak.
”For example, before the issue of the whole coronavirus, we (usually) sell the HDF for N9,500, but, now, (it is) N10,200, and the MDF we were already selling for 5,600, but now, 6,000,” Mr Ysusf said.
He warned that ”If nothing is done about it by April, there may be a 50 per cent increase in prices.
Possible move to Dubai
Ugo Nzeh an electrical trader at DEI DEI market said if the virus persists, he would move patronage from China to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture, and a lively nightlife.
”Since the virus broke out, no one has been able to go to China. We have been selling old stock. Nobody has been able to buy new things,” Mr Nzeh said.
”I intend to channel my trip to Dubai next (time) I am out of stocks. This whole thing has been giving me headaches, but I believe God is in control.”
Moshood Olawale is wholesale trader in Lagos, at the Balogun market, also known as ”Mandelas”.
”The coronavirus has affected our businesses here, Mr Olawale said. ”for instance, some of us (Merchants) going over there (China) have not been able to go because of the fear of the virus.”
Following the lockdown of much of the Chinese mainland (up to 150 million Chinese nationals are under mandatory movement restrictions), the production of goods and services will continue to slow, and in some cases, shut down completely, affecting exports to Nigeria, said, Cheta Nwanze, lead partner, SBMorgen Intelligence.
Basil Enwegbara, an economic expert, told PREMIUM TIMES that the effect of the coronavirus on Nigerian traders is a wake-up call to all Nigerians to begin to produce and accept made in Nigeria products.
He said Nigeria’s over-reliance on foreign product has affected the nation’s home-based producers.
Nwachukwu Ani, a Lagos based policy and advocacy specialist, said it is expected for Nigerian traders to face challenges as a result of the outbreak of Coronavirus.
”With the face of panic in the market, it is affecting the prices of goods, and it has potential for scarcity and inflation in the market,” Mr Ani said, adding that this is because ”our consumption is import-dependent and we do not have the capacity to produce, as we virtually do not produce anything.
He also expressed fears that if Nigerian traders change where they buy their products to other countries, it may lead to the increase in prices of goods.
“For those who want to channel where they buy their goods from China to other countries, they may not find it easy. Although, it is there (as) an option,” he said.
“It is not easy like that. They (Merchants) would have to first build business relationships. Getting to the market and expecting to get the exact thing that you get from China may be a difficult task and take a long time,” he said.
”They might not get it at the same price as they (usually) get it from China, because China produces with cheap labour, so diverting to other countries does not look too feasible. That would make prices to be high, in the country.”