PROGRESSIVE POLICIES

Nigeria 2016 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Charles Michel, Prime Minister of Belgium, on bilateral opportunities to expand trade ties, the value of strong mutual objectives, and the potential for Nigeria to diversify its footprint in the EU market.

Charles Michel
BIOGRAPHY
Prime Minister Charles Michel earned a Law degree from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the University of Amsterdam (1998). Over the course of his career he has held positions including being a Member (1991), then Chairman (1992-99), of the Jodoigne Young Liberals, and a lawyer at the Brussels Bar since 1998. He has been a member of the federal parliament since June 1999, and served as Walloon Minister for Interior Affairs and Civil Service (October 2000-July 2004). After holding a number of other important roles, he became the leader of Mouvement Réformateur (MR, Reformist Movement) from February 2011 until October 2014 and informateur (June 2014), then co-formateur (with Kris Peeters) of the federal government (2011-14).

Nigeria is among Belgium's largest trading partner in Africa, with trade volumes exceeding $2 billion. What future policies will allow commerce between the two countries to continue to grow and expand?

The relations between both our countries have been intensified since the transition of Nigeria to democracy and it is the wish of my government to intensify them even more in the future, particularly in order to support investment initiatives in Nigeria. Belgium seeks to diversify and expand trade opportunities outside Europe. It has always been an internationally oriented country with a particular interest towards Africa. I am convinced that Belgian know-how in various industrial sectors, such as bioengineering in crops and cattle breeding, transport management, environmental protection, water sanitation, electricity generation and distribution can be of use for the development and diversification of the Nigerian economy.

The recent election in Nigeria has provided opportunity for change in trade policy. How are Belgium and Nigeria's new administration expanding their ties, and how does the election strengthen Belgium's interests in the region?

Belgium wants to encourage Nigeria, as a major powerhouse on the African continent and its biggest economy, to further position itself as a stabilizing influence on the continent in order to improve respect for democratic principles and rule of law, as is now happening in Nigeria itself. Nigeria is a country that wants to work hard on economic development and on diversification from petroleum and natural gas. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected on this platform, and Belgium, like so many countries around the world, congratulated him wholeheartedly on this historic election, as well as the Nigerian people for the exemplary way in which the election was held and its result respected.

Nigeria and Belgium are both major centers for the maritime industry. How can trade between the two countries encourage the further development of Nigeria as a center of the shipping industry?

The port of Antwerp, the second biggest port in Europe, played an important role at the beginning of Nigeria's port reform leading to the landlord model of port concession. Both the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Port of Antwerp are now strengthening their age-long collaboration even more. Moreover, two Belgian dredging companies are involved in important projects in the field of port development in Lagos and Port Harcourt. The land reclamation of the Eko Atlantic project in Lagos is being carried out by Dredging International, which is also involved in dredging projects near Bonny Island and Port Harcourt. Another Belgian dredging company, Jan De Nul, was contracted in 2015 for the land reclamation project, where Nigerian giant entrepreneur Aliko Dangote will build his petroleum refinery and fertilizer plant. Some Nigerian industries have shown a particular interest in the position Belgium takes as a center for shipping and maritime industry. For example, the Port Harcourt based Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG) is exploring new business opportunities in Europe. It goes without saying that we would welcome cooperation between NLNG and the port of Zeebrugge, which is a major liquid natural gas hub in Europe.

Belgium is the 3rd largest European exporter to Nigeria. How are Belgian companies being encouraged to invest and do business in Nigeria?

Around 50 Belgian companies visited Nigeria in 2014 during a trade mission organized by “Flanders Investment & Trade”, one of our regional foreign trade agencies. This mission has led to increased opportunities. There was a particular focus on sectors that are important for the development of Nigeria, such as natural resources, agriculture and food processing, health, construction, infrastructure, (renewable) energy, telecommunication, port development, water supply and sanitation. It is not a coincidence that these are sectors for which the Nigerian government receives financing from international development banks, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. As such, incentives for Nigeria become opportunities for our companies, and Belgian business with Nigeria leads to further development across the board.