‘Macron understands the importance of Nigeria in Africa’

The head of United Bank for Africa's Representative Office in France outlines the opportunities presented by the new France-Nigeria Business Council.

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What was the idea behind the creation of the France-Nigeria Business Council?

The France-Nigeria Business Council was initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron to facilitate contacts between Nigerian and French businesses, to catalyse strategic partnerships and foster stronger economic ties between the two countries, both in terms of investment and bilateral trade.

Mr Macron has strong connections with Nigeria and has prioritised the relationship between our two countries. He interned at the French embassy in Abuja, giving him an early and meaningful introduction to our culture and potential. He also visited in 2018 and was hosted by Mr Tony O.Elumelu, chairman of United Bank for Africa (UBA), Heirs Holdings and founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, at a Q&A session with over 2,000 African entrepreneurs. That session demonstrated the extraordinary dynamic of young African entrepreneurs, something we catalyse through our Tony Elumelu Foundation and the United Bank for Africa.

Based on this very personal experience, Mr Macron understands the importance of Nigeria in Africa, in the repositioning of France’s relationship with the continent, and he has put Nigeria at a very prominent place in France’s African agenda, evidenced again by the dedicated France-Nigeria session at the Palace of Versailles during the Choose France summit in June.

The goal of the Council is very simple, to grow trade and relationships, ensure that the relationship is a “win-win” and becomes a partnership of equals. We strongly support the creation of value adding export industries in Nigeria, we are keen to help promote opportunities for both countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron surrounded by French and local people at the Afrika Shrine nightclub in Lagos.
French President Emmanuel Macron at a live show in the Afrika Shrine nightclub in Lagos during his visit to Nigeria in 2018. (Photo: Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

How will the partnership enhance business relations between Nigeria and France?

The partnership brings leading French and Nigerian businesses together in a focused forum. Traditionally French companies looked to Francophone Africa, due to longer historical ties and the language, and lately East Africa.

This renewed focus on Nigeria is a first step to help identify new trade and investment opportunities within Anglophone Africa. Equally, many Nigerians have developed businesses and cultural links to Anglophone countries such as the UK, the USA and Canada. The Council reminds Nigeria of France’s position as a strong partner for foreign direct investment and trade.

What areas or sectors should the Council focus on?

Nigeria’s trade relationship with France is primarily driven by crude oil exports, while refined petroleum products, and to a lesser extent, pharmaceutical and agricultural products represent between 50% and 75% of imports. However, France’s share of Nigerian imports in these three major sectors have steadily declined over the past 10 years, with other countries, especially China, increasing their share of Nigerian and African imports.

Fundamentally, both countries need to grow exports and diversify sectors and products. This is where the Council comes into play, bringing together key decision-makers from the public and private sectors. Nigeria neighbours Francophone countries, where French companies are also prominently represented, and the development of such ties with French companies can also foster the development of ties regionally.

What support does the Council need from the federal government?

The promotion of Nigeria to French companies and political leaders through the embassy in France and other initiatives aimed at improving Nigeria’s international ranking in the ease of doing business are always welcome.

It is for the Council however to create ties between our respective business leaders and their respective managements, to create that personal trust that will help companies from both sides really partner and navigate the economic and regulatory environments of our respective countries with confidence.

United Bank for Africa (UBA) group chairman Tony Elumelu will sit on the France-Nigeria Business Council.

René-Laurent Alciator is the head of the UBA Representative Office in France and global account manager at UBA.

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