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WTC Delaware spotlights Nigerian trade channels

Katie Tabeling
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Nigeria Minister of Trade, Investment and Multilateralism Anthony Alonwu speaks before De;laware business leaders and goverment officials during a World Trade Center Delaware networking event. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON  — As Nigeria continues to look to diversify and fortify its recovering economy, Delaware and African companies met at the Hotel du Pont Tuesday morning to explore possible trade options at a networking event hosted by World Trade Center Delaware.

Although Nigerian Ambassador Uzoma Emenike could not attend due to last-minute flight delays, the Nigerian Minister of Trade, Investment and Multilateralism Anthony Alonwu thanked business and state leaders for opening the door for opportunity.

“Nigeria is ripe for investment. Going forward, we need to have more information from both sides [Nigeria and the United States]. We need to bring all this potential from the outside world,” Alonwu said. “It is very good for us to forge ahead with this partnership with the Kogi and Delaware, now that we are connected.”

Among the dozens in attendance included representatives from African companies, members from the Delaware African Caribbean Coalition (DACC), as well as those from the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce.

Nigeria is the largest economy and most populous country in Africa, with an estimated population of over 200 million. That population is expected to grow to 400 million in the next 30 years. In the last two decades, the Nigerian economy has benefited from a trade agreement from China, but government officials have worked to diversify its trade partners to ensure the economy is not overly reliant on one partner.

Roughly 30% of Nigerians work in agriculture, and its largest exports are crude oil and cocoa, followed by rice, minerals and mushrooms. The United States has exported $3 billion in products to Nigeria, marking it the second-largest trade destination in Africa.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria was predicted to grow 2% in 2020, but the World Bank reported that, much like other countries, it contracted due to shutdowns. In September, the Central Bank predicts the economy will grow between 2.5% and 3% this year.

In addition, Nigeria is faced with social issues, such as the growing youth population and the general unemployment rates. Nigerian Ambassador Nicolas Ella reports that 45% to 50% of the population are youths, and the unemployment rate for the country overall is 33%. He warned there needed to grow more professional opportunities to lift the country as a whole.

“As a young boy, my family and I moved to a farm because we needed the money and they needed someone to keep the flies away. At this stage, we need to give more opportunities to keep our youth a future out of those fields,” Ella said. “If we don’t get the youths productive, then they become more destructive. And that is the challenge we are having currently: not having them engaged.”

In the last four years, the DACC has worked to promote better business relationships with Delaware residents who descend from African countries with state, business and nonprofit leaders. Since the initiative began, the DACC has worked with Nemours Children’s Health to send doctors to Gambia on the request of Gambian first lady Fatoumatta Bah Barrow to improve health care for women and children.

In July, DACC Education and Culture Executive Dr. Eunice Gwanmesia led a delegation to the Kogi State, one of the states of Nigeria and a commerce hub. That delegation helped spark tentative discussions about what Delawarean and other American companies could do to answer Nigerian needs.

“The goal is to attract the equivalent of $543 million and create 360,000 jobs in the next 48 months. Thirty percent of them will be realized in the next 18 months,” Gwanmesia said. “We will do that by building these partnerships with public and private businesses, and various institutions with who is in this room.”

Leaning on existing programs like its annual healthcare initiative, the CACC will focus on improving Kogi State’s education, youth empowerment and entrepreneurship and health care. CACC President Thomas Hne Grant emphasized that the advocacy organization is still working on broadening business opportunities with Nigeria by offering to ferry letters of intent to Delaware on their behalf.

“When [the Nigerian people] hear what we do, they ask how can we?” Grant said. “We cannot tell you what we can do for you, but if you tell us what you are looking for, we can use that collaboration and make it happen.”

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