How has Nigeria’s economic relationship with China evolved in recent years?
GEOFFREY ONYEAMA: When the president visited China in 2015, many agreements were signed involving both the government and the private sector. The Chinese are involved in a number of infrastructural projects in Nigeria, because that’s an area we are putting emphasis on. We are evaluating the possibility of making the Chinese yuan one of the basket of currencies to give us some alternatives, because we are having significant issues in terms of US dollar availability.
Among other topics that were recently discussed is the fact that we are increasingly concerned about the trade deficit with China. We are looking for China to import more from Nigeria, especially in terms of agricultural products. In addition, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation is making $60bn available to African countries in the next few years, so we are discussing suitable programmes for our country. We see our relationship with China evolving, and we think it is very positive at the moment.
Which external events might have the biggest impact on Nigeria’s economy over the coming years?
ONYEAMA: So far it is difficult to see what will happen with the presidency of Donald Trump. We cannot be sure yet of the real direction vis-à-vis Africa and Nigeria in particular. And while we are still not sure what impact Brexit is going to have on Nigeria’s economy, we are going to pursue bilateral trade agreements. Brexit might boost cooperation within the framework of the Commonwealth, if the UK decides to give more importance to the organisation. But as a former British colony, it should be business as usual.
We are also looking at increasing intra-African trade. We just had a summit meeting of the African Union (AU) and are hoping to have an African free trade area agreement by the end of 2017. Heads of states from around the continent are quite enthusiastic about it, and that the political will is there. If we can have this free trade area for Africa, with the free movement of people across the continent and an AU passport, we could see greater intra-African trade. In addition, other benefits could follow from that, such as developing transport infrastructure around Africa. This could have a big impact on Nigeria, because it is going to open up a larger market and the country could gain tremendous advantages from this.
The other thing that could impact our economy is the European Partnership Agreement; in ECOWAS, Nigeria and Gambia are the only two countries that have not signed. There is a significant amount of pressure from the EU on Nigeria to sign, but our private sector, and particularly manufacturing, is not in favour. This is fully endorsed by the government. Many believe we still have to protect our young manufacturing industry. If you open it up to competition with European manufacturers, as well as make our market available, it would be an uneven fight, and they believe they would be quickly put out of business.
How can Nigeria help encourage deeper economic integration among ECOWAS members?
ONYEAMA: It remains to be seen how realistic the deadline is for the common currency; we might need a bit more time. It is a top-down decision, and it could happen on schedule, but realistically it might need a bit more time for implementation. On the integration side, there is a reform process taking place within ECOWAS which Nigeria has driven– a two-year transition period that is dedicated to a complete reform of the role of ECOWAS. We are hopeful that at the end of two years we will have the mechanism for much better integration.