U.S. Statement at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Nigeria

WTO_OMC centeredStatement as delivered by Christopher Wilson,
USTR Deputy Chief of Mission

Geneva,

June 13, 2017

Thank you, Chair.  The United States welcomes the entire Nigerian delegation to the fifth review of the trade policies and practices of Nigeria.  We would like to thank Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe for his forthright, lively, plainspoken statement this morning, which acts as a good model for the TPR and is very relevant to our work.

The U.S. and Nigerian governments have a tradition of open bilateral dialogue on policies regarding trade, investment, and commercial matters. U.S. foreign direct investment in Nigeria exceeds $5 billion, focused mainly in mining and manufacturing.  U.S.-Nigerian trade is important, but has declined in recent years largely due to shifts in U.S. sourcing of petroleum.

As the country with the largest economy and population on the African continent, Nigeria’s trade and investment performance has importance well beyond its borders, as has been acknowledged already this morning. While Nigeria is facing economic challenges stemming from declining oil receipts, we are hopeful that this circumstance will provide a spur to the Nigerian government to follow through on needed reforms that promote competitiveness and diversification.

During the 2011 review of Nigeria’s trade policy regime the Secretariat noted the need for Nigeria to diversify its economy beyond oil, attract private investment, and improve its business and regulatory environment.  Those observations are as valid today as they were then, though some time has since been lost advancing these reforms.  It has been said that one should never waste a good crisis, as it can present a galvanizing opportunity to enact difficult changes, and Nigeria may be in such a period now.

We are pleased to see that the Nigerian government has signaled that it will redouble its efforts to improve the business environment from its current low ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.  Stricter adherence to the WTO’s obligations regarding greater transparency and due process would dovetail well with the Buhari Administration’s efforts to reduce corruption and foster a thriving business climate.

In that vein, we would note that Nigeria is neither an observer to, nor a member of, the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA).  Given that observership provides greater engagement opportunities with GPA Members without requiring the taking on of obligations, Nigeria might consider requesting such status in order to make an important statement on its commitment to transparency.

Another of the issues noted in the Secretariat report was the paucity of Nigeria’s notifications to the WTO under the WTO TBT and SPS Agreements and the fact that notifications have often been of regulations already in force.  The notification procedures facilitate a welcoming business environment through allowing stakeholders greater access to information and a voice in the decision-making process.

We were very pleased to see Nigeria ratify the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.  Implementation of the agreement will help reduce the cost of doing business in Nigeria and will foster greater certainty for the trading community.  We welcome the news that Nigeria is notifying its Category B and C commitments to the TFA Committee.

However, the barriers to importing into Nigeria go beyond cumbersome customs procedures, including such measures as currency restrictions and import bans that do not have an apparent basis under WTO rules.  These import barriers create a more difficult business environment and engender conditions for informal trade, which in turn evades tariff revenue collection and health and safety inspections.  We hope that Nigeria will reconsider these barriers, and focus instead on tools that address valid concerns with unfairly traded imports without disrupting legitimate trade.  We are pleased that the Nigerian government has in fact indicated that it intends to pursue development of WTO-consistent trade remedy mechanisms as well as customs reform.  We hope that the draft laws and regulations for these mechanisms will be made available to the public and to Members for review and comment prior to finalization or implementation.

While the Secretariat report notes that Nigeria notified to the WTO in 1996 that it did not have local content laws or regulations, Nigeria has since enacted such measures in the oil and gas, automotive, and communications technology sectors.  While we can understand the desire to promote local industries, U.S. companies have been critical of such measures as counterproductive and a hindrance to investment.  Meanwhile, WTO Members have repeatedly raised concerns about such measures through the WTO Committee system, including the Committee for Trade in Goods and the TRIMS Committee.  Unfortunately, Nigeria has been resistant to using the WTO system to provide factual information about these measures to other Members.

We commend the Nigerian government’s acknowledgement of the importance of intellectual property rights protection.  We encourage the government to complete ratification of several WIPO treaties that it has signed, and to see through its ongoing efforts to update Nigeria’s copyright law.  Given its thriving film and music industries, among others, Nigeria has much at stake in modernizing its copyright laws for the digital age.

In closing, we welcome this opportunity to review the Nigerian trade policy regime, to hear the plans of the Nigerian government to promote the competitiveness and diversification of its economy, and to provide feedback and observations on areas of progress and concern.  Nigeria faces significant challenges, but between the resources at its disposal and the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of its people, it has the ingredients it needs to succeed.  We look forward to studying Nigeria’s answers to our questions and to those of other Members.  We wish you a successful trade policy review.

Thank you.