Saturday, 26 September 2015

WILLIAM FANJOY SPEAKS ON WHY US COMPANIES ARE FOSTERING TRADE AND INVESTMENT IN NIGERIA

William Fanjoy
Wow!!! Have you heard of William Fanjoy? He is the Director of the United States Export Assistance Centers, Virginia and Washington DC. He led a delegation of the US Trade Winds-Africa Mission to Nigeria some days ago. In this interview, he talks about a new model of business between US and Nigerian companies. It is really very educative and informative. Sit back and enjoy it.

Why does the US want to foster trade and investment in Nigeria?
Nigeria is a great market. How could you not come to an over $500bn economy? How could you not come to an economy that, like United States, one day, there is one car on your street and in the next day, there are going to be 50 cars or 500 cars? I had an interesting conversation three weeks ago with the Press Secretary for Transportation in Kenya. She told me that in Kenya, they have 12,000 kilometers of paved roads since decolonisation and in the next five years, they are going to build another 10,000 km of paved roads. That is the market. Here is the market. So, we are here out of necessity. We can’t ignore a market like this.

There seems to be cultural attraction here. There seems to be a connection between Americans and Nigerians. They feel like they are the same people; I don’t know if they have a common history or common culture somewhere back there.

A number of our delegates are Nigerian-Americans, and they want to come back here and do business. But even the ones who are not Nigerian-Americans, when they met the Nigerian companies, they have an affinity – exporting or business is a contact sport and it is a personal sport. And the reason we are getting them together personally is because it is a relationship that they need to build and they have to have confidence in their partner. Nigerians are nice people and Americans identify with them.

In terms of investment into Nigeria through this trade mission, can you give a sense of what should be expected?
We had 107 businesses come to Africa; it is the largest US government-led trade mission ever. We came to eight countries; here, we had 201 business-to-business meetings and approximately 80 per cent of the 107 companies also have B2B and multiple economies. We don’t just look at B2B; at the same time, we are trying to bring in large number of American companies who have all been vetted because we know that they too will start talking with one another and form strong alliances in order to be competitive in Africa. So it’s a number of companies; it’s the quality of the companies and the number of economies that we are trying to penetrate.

What has been the impact of this visit so far?
The impact of this visit has been creating models of real exporting between the United States and Africa. In the past, all we have had are models created by large companies who have done very well like General Electric, but ever since the President has devoted time and resources such as Power Africa, Doing Business in Africa, and the President Advisory Council on Africa, we have been looking for a real model of business between a small, medium-sized business in the United States and a Nigerian company or an African company on the ground.

Over five per cent economic growth means a lot, but to the business people, it doesn’t mean anything. In terms of my office, which helps US companies find companies in Africa to sign contracts with, it also means nothing. What means a lot is to have one model – one American company signing a contract with a Nigerian company and from that, we can then replicate it.

If we can do it in Nigeria, we can do it in Cameroon, and then we can do it in Mali, and there is nothing stopping us. When we were looking at coming to Africa with the Trade Winds mission, it has been a two-year mission, meaning last year, we were trying to bring this particular trade mission to Africa. Last year, we asked the secretary, but there were other initiatives.

This year, when we were asking the secretary, the department of commerce to come to Africa, the president sent a note from the White House to the secretary, saying, “You will come to Africa”, and it is because this trade mission, unlike other trade missions, is not focused on the high level, on the meetings with the president or between two presidents; it is based on the real level, meetings between one company in the United States and a Nigerian company. Our track record is that 50 per cent of the companies coming here we know will be signing a contract in Africa. I believe that track record will be higher for this trade mission.

All the companies on the visit know what the economic situation is here and what the political and commercial situation is. The beauty of our model is that my organisation back in the United States spent quality time getting the American companies; so when there is synergy between the American companies and the Nigerian companies, there is no reason why there won’t be signed contracts. And our role at that time is to get out of the way and let them do business.

How many US companies were on the delegation to Nigeria and what sectors are they focusing on?
There were 16 companies that came here with me; they were across all sectors – oil and gas, medical, pharmaceutical, consulting, energy, cosmetics; there is really no sector that was left out. When you see an economy as large as Nigeria, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, there is no sector that should not be approached. Think of the United States in the 1950s and what is happening currently. One day, no one had a TV; the next day, everyone wanted to have a TV. Today, I don’t know the percentage of cars that are on the roads here, but it is going up. When I was looking at the economic specific for Nigeria, I wasn’t looking at percentage, I was looking at products. Everyone here has got a cell phone.

Are you saying we are going to have more brands coming from the US to connect with Nigerian companies in order to penetrate the Nigerian market?
I’m certain of it. As I was walking around from business to business today, I was asking the American businesses, how was it? And it is not ‘how was it?’ on a grand scale, it is ‘how was it?’ when you met that one individual company. A company told me that they are 80 per cent sure that they would sign a contract. That’s incredible. Most companies like to keep that information inside. But they were happy about who they were meeting today, and it was only because both sides knew that the essence of success was making sure that both sides are ready and they were.

A number of the companies on the visit seem to be more focused on energy, why?
It is because there is an energy need here. It is an economy that is growing and the energy need cannot keep up with the growth, and we know that is the sector that is an opportunity for us. There is a need and it is one we can fill, and it is not just oil and gas, it includes solar or any other new technology. We felt that Nigeria is willing to listen to any new possibility.

What’s your perception about the new government in place?
I can’t speak about politics here; what I can tell you is that the people that I have spoken to, the businesses here are very optimistic. Everyone we have spoken to here, the partners seem to be extremely optimistic, and it’s optimism for the right reason. It is creating the positive, free, open business environment that will help American businesses come here.