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U.S. AND NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT AND BUSINESS LEADERS DISCUSS WAYS TO INCREASE TRADE OPPORTUNITIES WITH NIGERIA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 27, 2000

Media Contact Name/Phone: 

Linda Formella or Niki Shepperd (202) 565-3200

Abuja, Nigeria — More than 250 Nigerian government and business leaders gathered August 27, 2000 at the International Conference Center to discuss steps the United States and Nigeria could take to increase trade and strengthen the U.S.- Nigerian economic partnership.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and Nigerian Minister of Commerce Bell, co-facilitated a trade and investment dialogue about the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Nigerian privatization, energy and telecommunications.

The following summary of the morning discussion was prepared by James A. Harmon, President and Chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States:

Earlier today we had a far-reaching discussion on how we can deepen commercial ties between the United States and Nigeria. I have been asked to summarize the remarks and comments of the American presenters as it concerned the African Growth and Opportunity Act, privatization, energy and telecommunications.

If there was one overriding theme that grew out of this morning's discussion it is that political stability will not guarantee economic development--but there cannot be sustained economic growth and development without political stability. Nigeria's commitment to democracy, which we vigorously applaud and support, opens the door to enter the global economy as a full-fledged partner.

As important as it is, however, democracy is not enough. There must be a national economic strategy that is designed to move the economy forward in all sectors while attracting external capital. Having said that, there clearly is a need to give priority to certain sectors: especially oil and gas and the ability to upgrade and expand the country's refining capacity. Another priority has to be the upgrading and restructuring of the capacity of this country to produce electrical power to develop a telecommunications system for manufacturing, banking, government and all aspects of life. And of course, as our Secretary of Transportation has stated so clearly on so many occasions, every country needs a transportation infrastructure to move the goods, services and people required to benefit all that the global economy has to offer.

If it sounds like I am trying to convey a sense of urgency, you are right. I truly believe that the 21st century can be Africa's century but this can only happen by design and hard focused work. It will not happen by chance, I can assure you. If Nigeria is to realize its vast potential, and I am confident it can, there must be a well-conceived and implemented program of privatization.

My long career in investment banking taught me many things, but one fact is unassailable: privatization is essential and, obviously, it is just ast important to get the privatization process right so that Nigeria and all of its people benefit as they should. Steps that can help ensure that privatization generates maximum benefits are respect for rule of law, transparency and good governance. In today's market, I believe that the capital required for privatization and restructuring will be available.

An important complement to privatization is stimulating the light manufacturing sector in this country. It is for that reason that we worked hard to pass the African Growth and Opportunity Act. For all reforming economies, this bill opens U.S. markets to several thousand products. The bill will extend duty-free and quota-free access for essentially all African products. It will guarantee duty-free GSP benefits for eight years and lift all existing quotas on textiles and apparel products from sub-Saharan Africa, and offers duty-free treatment to a wide array of apparel products. Not only will this help to stimulate greater amounts of American investment in Africa, but it is also expected to stimulate the creation of thousands of new jobs and introduce new skills and technologies in Africa. Rosa Whitaker, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, is here to answer questions you might have about the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

In the energy sector both the Assistant Secretary for Energy, David Goldman, and Paul Caldwell, Managing Director of Exxon/Mobil, agreed that there is unlimited potential in this country as it concerns the development of the oil and gas sectors. The challenges, however, cannot be minimized. Power lines need to be rehabilitated, transmission lines must be repaired and expanded, and there must be a significant amount of deregulation, especially as it concerns prices. In an effort to help Nigeria meet these challenges, the Department of Energy has established an energy consultative group to provide technical assistance. While this assistance can be helpful, it is no substitute for a national consensus on the need to undertake reforms in the energy sector and build capacity as quickly as possible.

In reference to telecommunications, Quentin Butts of Lucent Technology made a point that could be applied to all sectors of Nigeria's economy: Nigeria must promote itself aggressively to attract foreign investment.

Using telecommunication as an example, the point was made that Africa is competing for investment dollars with other countries where there already has been a significant amount of deregulation, privatization and reform. It is imperative, therefore that the government addresses such vital issues as licenses, permits to build capital, and investing in a skills base that will permit Nigeria to take advantage of telecom investments. The lack of access to cell phones and other information-based technologies makes this region — Africa and Nigeria — a very attractive market. Making it a viable market, however, is the challenge in front of us. And it is a challenge that I believe Nigeria can meet.

The United States through Ex-Im Bank, OPIC, TDA, and US AID is committed to be at your side in this effort. When I was here last November I said: Africa's time has come and the moment is now. We are all dedicated to building a strong U.S.—Nigerian partnership and to prove to your president that there are democracy dividends.