In this write up, JIMOH BABATUNDE  overviews the recent commendable efforts of the Trade & Investment Minster to ensure maximization of opportunities for stakeholders.

With the planned export of  the nation’s first consignment of steel to Ghana  by African Steel mill soon,  the revitalization of hitherto moribund steel sector by the Federal Government under the leadership of the Minister of  Industry, Trade and Investment,  Olusegun Aganga, would have materialized.

Chief Executive Officer of African Foundries Limited, Sanjay Kumar,  said  in the next five years Nigeria may be one of the largest producers of steel in the world.

Speaking during a media tour of  the company’s steel mill at Ogijo, Ogun State  recently, he said  “The potential is there for Nigeria because of her drive toward economic diversification; her manpower base; her intellectual base in metallurgy science; and because she possesses abundant natural resources for steel production.

It is without doubt that Nigeria has the capacity to become Africa’s voice in the international market place for the manufacture, marketing and exportation of rods.”

Kumar explained that Nigeria is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of unexplored iron ore. So, if steel is developed , then it will lead to more mining and essentially more development for the nation’s steel sector and the entire economy.

Kumar also said that with the efforts indigenous steel producing companies in bridging the local demand-supply chain, Nigeria domestic rod production could reach 1,250,000 tonnes by 2013.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment,  Olusegun Aganga  during an  interactive session with leaders of the Organised Private Sector (OPS), stated that as part of the Ministry’s industrial revolution plan, the Federal Government was considering a new paradigm that would boost the development of the steel industry.

For the steel industry, Aganga noted that government would implement a backward integration policy that will enable the country explore and process the abundant iron ore deposits across the country to support industrial growth and development.

He said: “We are embarking on an industrial revolution which is anchored on areas where we have comparative and competitive advantage such as agri-business, solid minerals and petrochemicals. Also, we are concentrating on growing the industries that are labour-intensive so that we will be able to create jobs for our teeming population. For example, in the mining-related industry, we are collaborating with the Ministry of Mines and Steel to develop the chain in the steel sector.

“There is no country that has industrialised without growing its iron and steel industry. In Nigeria, we import raw materials for the steel industry yet we have a lot. As part of our industrial revolution, we need to embark on big strategies, working with the Ministry of Solid Minerals and Steel Development, to process the raw materials used for the steel industry.”

The revitalization of hitherto moribund steel sector, encouragement of local producers of cement; some level of improved local operating environment for business as well as increasing awareness for patronage of made-in-Nigeria are some issues that readily come to mind when one considers  activities of the ministry under Aganga.

It would be recalled that Aganga had at a meeting in Abuja late last year, promised that 2013 would witness the coming in place of a policy that force down the prices of cement in the country.

Ojo Bola said if not for the tactical and timely intervention of the Minister, the brewing discontent amongst the major stakeholders in Nigeria’s controversial cement sector would obviously have developed into a full blown trade war.

But the industry was saved that war by the tactical and timely intervention of Dr Olusegun Aganga. Not only did he succeed in stemming a growing media war between the major actors, he was able to broker peace between them after following a round table discussion in Abuja.

Some operators acknowledged that without Aganga’s handling of the face-off, the economy, especially the cement sector, would probably have had a negative effect on the economy.

Aganga had said, “In 2002, the major priority of the country’s Backward Integration Policy was about cement production from limestone. I am delighted to say that after 10 years of implementation of the BIP, the good news is that we started with two million metric tonnes capacity, but today, we have about 28 million metric tonnes capacity of cement or investment of about $6bn; which provides direct and indirect employment for about two million people. And because of what we have done together, we have been able to save the country foreign exchange of about N210bn per year.

“This means that we need to look at the overall structure, including the current pricing, availability and affordability, in addition to developing an export strategy for the sector.”

The minister noted that his ministry would work with all the stakeholders in the sector to ensure sustainable growth and development.

Mr Jude Ajuzie, an entrepreneur observed, the impact of some of these moves may not be obvious now, but would begin to yield impacts over time. “ I particularly support his initiatives on cement, because I know that is one area where the country has been losing so much money. I am one of those who believe that the Nigerian businessman should be supported to produce here, and not that we should open our borders to imports to just any product from anywhere”.

It may not be total uhuru yet for the sector, but that intervention has placed the sector in a good stead to optimise its potentials and also take the opportunities that accrued to it.

Within the week, the success of that singular intervention by Aganga was still the topic of discussion amongst industry stakeholders, again, highlighting his unique interventionist attributes of Aganga.

Furthermore, his commitment to the revitalisation of the industrial sector could be seen in his campaign for patronage of made-in-Nigeria products.

Specifically, he proposed that ministries, departments and agencies of the government should actually lead the campaign supporting local firms by buying Made-in-Nigeria products in line with the local content provision for government procurement.

According to him, it is not enough to do a campaign to encourage consumption of locally manufactured goods, but by also backing such campaign with a policy that would further drive its implementation.

He said: “We have since  discovered that monitoring and enforcing the use of made-in-Nigeria products is a key challenge and this would be addressed through a policy that would be ready in a few weeks. There is no country that has managed to transform itself without adequate industrial growth or wholesome dependence on imported goods.

“Local industries need to be empowered and that is why developing a policy to enhance local consumption of made-in-Nigeria products is key to the economy. We are looking at replicating the success story in the cement industry to some other key sectors through local capacity utilization that would further spur exportation.”

In terms of Foreign Direct Investments, Aganga said: Nigeria is now the number one investment destination in Africa; recording FDI inflow of $8.9 billion in 2011, about 16 per cent of Africa’s total, estimated at $55billion. However, we must turn the nation’s resource advantage and investment opportunities into economic fortune.

The United States, for instance, is the world’s number one in manufacturing, particularly in those sectors we have prioritized under the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan, such as the iron and steel, aluminum, automobile and petrochemical sectors, among others. This means there is already a good foundation for a win-win trade and investment collaboration between the two countries.

On trade liberalisation, Aganga said effective regional integration in Africa would not only enhance trade within Africa but would also attract investment into the manufacturing sector.

According to him, Nigeria aims at expanding Intra-African trade by breaking down tariff and non-tariff barriers and enhancing mutually advantageous commercial relations through trade liberalisation schemes.

He had said: “Nigeria urgently needs to overcome the challenges of trade, mainly the free movement of goods and services to ensure accelerated industrialisation and facilitate growth within the region. To this end, we have already commenced several trade facilitation initiatives. My Ministry is at an advanced stage, working with NEXIM bank, on the proposed sea link coaster ferry services along the West African coast to reduce the same journey to less than one week. In addition, we are focusing on formalising informal trades along the borders.

Only recently, Aganga led the federal government’s inauguration of a task force to review the country’s investment policies, which are expected to be anchored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Growth and Employment in States (GEMS3), a UK Department for International Development (DFID)-funded programme.

The review would cover investment policy, investment promotion and facilitation, trade policy; competition policy and corporate governance.

Aganga added: “For the first time, we have Nigeria in a different area where you can describe as the high growth and high return environment, compared to at least 75 percent of other global economies. This means that we are in a very unique position to take advantage of this unique opportunity. However, the only thing that stands between us and taking advantage of this huge opportunity is having a well-coordinated and systematic investment policy,”

He explained that the OECD and DFIC had a good track record that had been tested based on what they had done in 60 other countries, noting that the review, which would be done at both the national and state levels, would be used as a model, globally, based on the successful implementation of the programme.

He said: “For us in Nigeria, it is the first time ever that we will have a well-coordinated investment policy framework, which we have never had in the country.

By implication, there are series of other action plans up Aganga’s sleeves, which are expected, would leave far reaching impacts on allied sectors of the economy.

Industry watchers however believe that Aganga will do better to initiate policies to streamline investment, business transactions and exports. These will create more jobs than the palliatives of the past.

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