Economic diplomacy strategy needed to transform economy

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By Gabriel Omoh, Business Editor

Sound policies and strategies are required if Mr President is to succeed in his bid to transform the Nigerian economy. One of the strategies the President can adopt is Economic diplomacy. Economic diplomacy is traditionally defined as the decision-making, policy-making and advocating of the state’s business interests.

It requires application of technical expertise that analyzes the effects of a country’s economic situation on its political climate and economic interests. The foreign business leaders as well as government decision-makers work together on some of the most cutting edge issues in foreign policy, such as technology, the environment, as well as in the more traditional areas of trade and finance.

The President in his foreign policy agenda must have as his top priority the economic interest of the Nigeria state at the centre stage. Whether Nigeria intends to make Africa its focus, the strategy of Nigeria business and economic interest must be asserted.

For too long, Nigeria has played the big brother without much to show for it. Successive administrations have not been able to harness Nigeria’s economic potentials hence the over-dependence on crude oil and the resource curse syndrome. The country’s dependence on crude oil since 1970 puts the Nigerian economy in the hands of those who determine the price of crude oil in the international oil market.

The implication is that policymakers are not in full control of the macroeconomic variables that can serve as a push factor of the economy. The Petroleum Industry Bill is a case in point where the international oil companies are working tirelessly to ensure the bill favours them. As far as they are concerned, it’s either the bill favours them or no bill at all. Thus, expected goals and targets are either omitted or never met at all. Nigeria is not set to benefit from globalisation because even when Nigeria deregulates its economy completely, there is nothing tangible the nation is producing to expand its economic space.

That is why Nigeria has entered into a plethora of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements but lacks the political will to create an atmosphere to support Foreign Direct Investment.

In Nigeria’s economic diplomacy, the Ike Nwachukwu years (1988-1992) during the Babangida military administration which introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme SAP, Ike Nwachwuku who was the foreign minister adopted the economic diplomacy strategy. At that time, the government deliberately put the private sector forward. There was apparent cooperation between the private and public sectors which gave birth to the Group of15 Council.

Though it was dominated by the public sector which major interest was the estacode they got from foreign trips, many bilateral chambers were formed but did not live up to expectations. There were several public/private sector trade missions to Asia, Europe and America in which several bilateral agreements were signed for the exchange of economic data. Meetings were held around the members of the G-15 – Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Egypt, Israel etc. These agreements were never followed up.

Babangida even came up with what he called corporate Nigeria where the business class and the government rubbed minds after the budget – the famous post-budget dinner. It was a joy-joy kind of arrangement where the views of the private sector were sought and reflected in government policies and it fostered a working relationship between the public and private sectors of the economy

When President Obasanjo’s administration came into power, he embarked on economic diplomacy to sell Nigeria’s conducive business climate to the outside world. Unlike the Babangida era when the policy was used to sell the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the Obasanjo administration’s shuttle to tell Nigeria’s trading partners that Nigeria, under democratic rule, is now conducive for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Not much was achieved because the public sector was not at home with the policy.

The President may need to visit this arrangement and deliberately carry the organised private sector along with him. In his trips outside the country, he must have in his team, members of the organised private sector who will hold sessions with their counterparts in which ever country the President is visiting. Exchange of trade and investment information between Nigeria and other countries must be emphasised.

The Nigerian Export Promotion Council and the Nigeria Investment Promotion Board must be made to develop current database on natural/mineral resources as well as investment opportunities in Nigeria to be shared via internet with chambers of commerce and industries of targeted countries.

In economic diplomacy, versatility, flexibility, sound judgment and strong business skills are all needed in the execution of the strategy. Diplomats to be appointed must be well schooled in the art of economic diplomacy so that they can monitor and report on economic policies in foreign countries and advise the President on how to best influence them. The Federal Government should also reward and sanction diplomats in its execution of economic diplomacy.   This is what economic diplomats sometimes call “economic statecraft.”

Nigeria by its position in Africa is well positioned to use its political influence and relationships to:  promote made in Nigeria products, investment opportunities in the country; improve the functioning of markets in the sub-region; reduce the cost and risks of cross border transactions; achieve internationally accepted standards; secure private property rights; develop international telecommunications, energy and transport networks; and consolidate the right political climate to facilitate and institute all of these objectives.

For the President, this is a great challenge, especially for Nigeria which must contend with the forces of economic nationalism, cultural anxieties, embedded corruption and resistance to reform. Economic diplomacy is also of great importance as a long-term instrument for conflict prevention.

The United States and Europe complemented each other, combining their respective strengths time and again, working together and with other powers and important nations of the international community within the framework of international organisations. That partnership between Europe and America, is and will remain for the foreseeable future the most important factor in economic diplomacy and for conflict prevention in the world. Nigeria needs this strategy to function now.

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