A delegation of European Union officials on Saturday in Lagos held a meeting with members of the European Business Chamber Nigeria (EuroCham) to discuss opportunities and challenges of doing business in the country.
The roundtable discussion was held ahead of a meeting between the EU Commission Vice President, Margrethe Vestager, and top Nigerian government officials in Abuja this week.
EuroCham is a business group uniting the main European investors and corporate organisations in Nigeria. It was launched at the EU-Nigeria Business Forum in October 2018 by the EU ambassador.
“The meeting gave us the opportunity again to underline the fact that trade and investment are very much on top of our priorities, and they are also key priorities in the partnership between the European Union and Nigeria,” said Samuela Isopi, the EU Ambassador in Nigeria.
“The European Union as a bloc is already Nigeria’s largest trading partner and also the European Union is a very important investor in Nigeria. We have European companies that have been here for a long time, that contribute to creating jobs and to the economic development of the country.”
European-owned businesses in Nigeria stretch from the oil sector to the non-oil area including construction, technology, food, among others.
Ms Isopi said the EU would continue its dialogue with the Nigerian government on how to reinforce the economic partnership between the two entities.
“Because development is about the private sector, about developing the economy… when I say private sector it’s not only to attract or help European Union companies but also create good conditions for the Nigerian private sector to be able to contribute to the development of the country,” she added.
The meeting afforded members of EuroCham to highlight some of the challenges their businesses face in the country.
“These challenges are faced by both European and Nigerian companies and the companies of any other country. So this is part of our dialogue, to see how together we can help improve the business environment and how together we can actually deal with these challenges,” Ms Isopi said.
John Taylor, EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS’ Head of Trade and Economics Section, said as Nigeria’s largest trading partner, the EU is committed to supporting the Nigerian government in developing its economy.
“When you look at the statistics produced by the National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria you don’t see that because they are collected by country,” said Mr Taylor.
“So we have exports from Nigeria to Spain, Germany, Netherlands, France, when you add up all those countries referred to as the EU we are actually the largest trading partner.”
Nigeria’s trade with the EU consists essentially of crude oil exports to Europe and refined oil products back to the country.
Mr Taylor said with Dangote Refinery beginning operation later this year, the trade volume between Nigeria and the rest of the world, especially the EU, will change drastically.
That change could see a switch to non-oil trade between the two partners.
“When you look at non-oil trade with Nigeria, you’re looking at exports from Nigeria of agricultural products and we know that the Central Bank here has played a very strong role in trying to develop certain very specific sectors like rice production in the country,” Mr Taylor said.
“The EU is also a major exporter of agricultural products, so we need to find the right balance between EU and Nigeria to enable farmers and producers here to grow. An example of where the EU is already very active is the dairy sector.
“I think only a few years ago there was almost no production of dairy goods in Nigeria, and we have several European countries who are now implanted in Nigeria. So, a year or two ago they were only exporting to this country and now they are setting up factories to produce dairy products that are actually Nigerian.
“So, if you look on social media you will see European companies like Arla, Danone, Friesland Campagna who are setting up factories here to actually develop the sectors in the country.”
Mr Taylor urged the Nigerian government to improve the infrastructure in the country to enable it to attract foreign investors.
“Certainly, if there is a strong will here to improve the conditions for doing business, the investors of course will come in, it’s a wonderful market here,” he said.
“If you want to have investments here from abroad, you also have to look at your investment environment here. And that is something that European companies are looking at very closely. We have companies here that have been here for decades but to encourage new investors to come here I think you also have to address some of the structural problems in the country.”
Earlier, Mary Ojulari, EuroCham President, noted that European businesses operate in a “difficult market” and the roundtable provides an avenue to come together and discuss the issues they are facing and collectively advocate for change.
She said the EuroCham platform has engaged some of the most prominent European companies to assess, review, and improve their business operations through fostering relevant exchange and dialogue with stakeholders.
“There are countless hurdles for we investors in Nigeria ranging from ease of doing business, dealing with regulators, foreign exchange and the list goes on and on,” said Ms Ojulari, deputy managing director at Weststar Associate Limited.
“In line with the objectives of Eurocham, we seek to actively promote trade, investments, and exchanges between European and Nigerian business and to engage central and local government, when necessary, to raise awareness or formulate recommendations on particular issues of interest or concern.
“Our major strength to date is advocacy, advocacy with regulators which has provided a rich opportunity for European members to get insight into policy development in the country.”
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