Interview: Ed Fast

How do recent reforms challenge the perception of Nigeria as a high-risk investment environment?

ED FAST: I commend the Nigerian government for its economic reform agenda, particularly with regards to privatisation and anti-corruption reform efforts. These ongoing changes will create better opportunities for all Nigerians and for investors from around the world. Furthermore, the recent comprehensive effort to reform the banking sector will help to establish a more conducive foreign investment environment, creating potential opportunities for Canadian firms.

The Canadian government is now working with the Nigerian government to enhance cooperation in security and trade. It is important that security threats are addressed, particularly because security and prosperity go hand-in-hand. Our bilateral relationship shows tremendous potential and the Nigerian government’s reform policies can only help it move forward.

Canadian businesses are taking a fresh look at Nigeria and the opportunities it presents. They see that the environment is good for business, including a fair and strong regulatory framework to support and protect them. The Nigerian-Canada Business Association set a goal to double the volume of trade by 2015 to $6bn.

To what extent is there scope for free trade agreement negotiations between Canada and Nigeria?

FAST: Bilateral merchandise trade between our two countries has more than tripled since 2006 to approximately $2.7bn in 2011, making Nigeria Canada’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa. Canadian merchandise exports to Nigeria reached $227m in 2011, while our total imports from Nigeria reached $2.49bn. The balance of trade is definitely in Nigeria’s favour. I led a trade mission to Nigeria with nearly 30 Canadian companies and organisations interested in doing business in the nation, creating partnerships with Nigerian companies and levelling the playing field.

A foreign investment promotion and protection agreement to encourage Canadian investment in Nigeria is one tool that we can use to help boost bilateral trade and investment. Such an agreement would help to provide investors with the stable, transparent and predictable environment needed to invest with greater confidence, and to further enhance both bilateral trade and the climate for investment.

What can be done to diversify trade and investment away from the extractive industries?

FAST: Trade volumes between Canada and Nigeria have climbed dramatically recently, and minerals and hydrocarbons make up a large proportion of this. Overall, the Canadian business presence in Nigeria is substantial and multifaceted. The information and communications technology – including a suite of high-tech products like Blackberry – education, engineering and transport infrastructure sectors represent an increasing portion of our bilateral trade and investment, as do hydropower, aviation and environment. We are constantly working to open new markets for Canadian companies.

While diversified trade and investment are vital to our bilateral relationship, the extractive sector can also be an important driver of sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in developing countries, provided that an enabling environment is created. For the future prosperity of Africa, the development of mining, oil and gas resources, and infrastructure is critical. Canadian mining companies are known globally for their capabilities and corporate social responsibility practice, and can assist Nigeria in growing this sector.

How can greater trade and investment benefit the most vulnerable segments of the population?

FAST: Canada’s work in the mining and extractive sector is a prime example of how governments can foster development partnerships involving the private sector. The management of natural resources in developing countries is an important driver of sustainable economic growth by creating jobs and providing the government with revenue to deliver services to their citizens.