SHIGEYO NISHIZAWA is the Trade Commissioner and Managing Director, Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO). He led a strong delegation of about 30 Japanese companies to this year’s 32nd Lagos International Trade Fair, which held at the Tafawa Balewa Square. Their mission, according to him, was to expand their businesses in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and market. In this interview with TEMITAYO AYETOTO, he says the firms have their eyes on the infrastructure, oil and steel sectors of the Nigerian economy.
One could mistake the abbreviation JETRO for some exotic fruit, but we know what it stands for taken each letter one by one. But can you share with us and the benefit of our readers what JETRO is all about?
JETRO is a government organisation under the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry. There are two government organisations other than the embassy in Nigeria. They are JAICO and JETRO. Our office was established in 1955 and one of the oldest overseas offices. JETRO has been of immense support to Japanese companies in Nigeria as its main objective is to promote trade and investment between Japan and Nigeria. Its activities include improving the business environment, to get Japanese companies to invest in Nigeria, as well as promoting trade and investment.
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As one of its activities is to showcase Japanese products to African market, JETRO organised the Japan Pavilion at the Lagos International Trade Fair held in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. Various products were exhibited at the pavilion, from vehicles to food products and other amazing products. DMM.com LLC brought their new products and many people were excited to see the brand-new Nail Printer model, which came out to the public for the first time in Nigeria. As the Nigerian economy is starting to recuperate, exhibitors are keen to enter and expand their business in the biggest market on the African continent.
Devoid of any doubt, there was a huge difference in the size and number of exhibitors in Japan Pavilion this year as compared to last year 2017. 23 Japanese companies exhibited in year 2017 as compared to about 30 Japanese companies this year which included participants from Japan as well as their local representative agents, in areas such as food, vehicles, transportation machinery like motorcycles, trucks and auto parts; stationary, home appliances, fiber for hair making, hair care goods, dietary supplement, power generators, raw materials for cosmetics, industrial equipment, electrical tools, office equipment and sewing machines. Japanese firms and their local distributors brought in more than 33 Japanese brands to fascinate Nigerians. I am more than excited to recognize that the Japan Pavilion functioned as a business pathway for Nigeria, West Africa and even the whole continent for Japanese companies.
How long has Jetro participated in the trade fair in Nigeria.
This is the fifth time we are participating in the fair. 2014 was the first time. Most of our exhibitors are into cars, printers and office automations, home appliances and beauty cosmetics like nail printers. Those are high tech production from Japan. On the food, the Japanese have curry seasoning. Originally from India, the Japanese have progressed in their curry seasoning style.
Why are you interested in the Nigerian market?
One reason is the huge population and the fact that the country has huge funds to buy goods from overseas. So the country has a natural resource like oil and gas. They export their natural resources to buy many commodities all over the world. I know the Nigerian government is trying to grow its own agricultural business and manufacturing but unfortunately, imported goods are cheaper than Nigerian made.
Everyone knows that the Chinese products are everywhere all over Nigeria because they are cheap. And Nigerian manufacturers cannot make those products at such price as China products. Of course, Japanese manufacturers produce from plastic ware to clothes but some Nigerian middle income people love more high quality or sophisticated products because of their philosophy. I know many Nigerians love iphones. Do you know why? My answer is that they share Apple’s philosophy. They have sympathy for Steve Jobs and that’s the one thing that makes their product value added.
Which segment are you basically targeting in Nigeria’s income class?
We are targeting those who earn over N300, 000 monthly. If Nigerians have a very strong sympathy towards someone’s philosophy, they follow. Even though abandon other things like food or clothing; they follow their philosophy very strongly. And I believe that Japanese producers also have their philosophy which is that good quality makes people happy or good quality has no compromise. Compromise less on the product and you will achieve global happiness. So if there is any compromise, the products get out of order easily or are broken easily.
Which sectors are you looking to invest in Nigeria?
Our priority is infrastructure. We are also looking at oil, steel and, of course, power generating stations. But they are too huge and some entrepreneurs, trading houses are doing business in Nigeria with some in oil and steel industry. But Chinese companies are doing business very well because they have very reasonable price.
Unlike before, Japanese companies have not been doing well but the wide use of Toyota and Nissan shows the quality of Japan. Japanese cars are very strong and durable and do not easily break or go out of order. So Nigerians believe in this Japanese quality because Japanese companies have the philosophy of don’t deceive people by a fake one. For instance, a car consists of over 20,000 parts including the bolts, nuts, rods, pipe, sheet, glasses and wheels or rubbers. When one machine moves, every single part gets along together. So the machines are integrated and without perfect parts, the machine does not work well.
Do you encourage any of these companies to produce in Nigeria rather than assemble imported parts into the country?
When I came into Nigeria, I knew at once that there was government corruption. Nigeria has a lot of money because they export oil and gas. But how do you use it? The money should be distributed to everyone, including manufacturers so that they can buy technologies overseas and materials and introduce investments into Nigeria. Without the technology and the know-how, they cannot make even a single bolt. So government has to understand the importance of technology. So why can’t a single car be made and manufacturers have to import everything from overseas and just assemble here to sell to the Nigerian market? This is because assembling is cheaper than investments in setting up factories and hiring people.
What government actions do you think will really support local investments?
The first is policies. Policies that say politicians do not have to rely on oil. Oil is a limited resource. When all the oils are dug wit no more there, what will happen in Nigeria? Japan does not have any oil resource or steel but the Japanese have progressed with technology. They import oil and steel and make products and export by their technology.
The government also needs to address the cost of manufacturing with effective infrastructure. About 10,000 tonnes of mackerel fish is imported into Nigeria every year. Unfortunately, the cold chain facility is not enough. So many importers import mackerel fish from Norway, China and Japan. This is one of the problems of local industry. Investment needs be made into cold chain vessels, trucks, markets and retail stores. And I don’t think only one investor can do that. The banks, commercial banks and the governmental banks have to get together and invest. We also need government to support investment without harassment or corruption.