Japan’s third trade mission to Nigeria arrived Wednesday in Abuja, where the first World Economic Forum to be held in Africa continued to unfold against a backdrop of intensifying international concern about mass kidnapping in the country’s northeast.
The Nigerian ambassador to Japan, Godwin Agbo, whose embassy organized the trade mission in conjunction with Japanese trade and diplomatic agencies, said he hopes the trip will lead to increased Japanese investment in Nigeria, now officially Africa’s largest economy following a reassessment of the nation’s GDP. Although some Japanese firms have historically maintained consistent economic relationships with Nigeria, Japanese investment in Nigeria and the African continent in general has remained cool since the early 1990s.
Forty-six representatives from 29 Japanese companies are traveling with the trade mission (which concludes Friday) through Lagos and Abuja to meet with their Nigerian counterparts. They include managers from major Japanese banks and trading houses, several of whom have made plain their intention to increase engagement with Africa, and with Nigeria in particular.
“We closed our Lagos office in 1995. It was a pity,” said Sumitomo representative Tomino Ichiro during a tour of the Lagos Free Trade Zone. “I’m hoping we’ll reopen it.”
The chief representative of Mizho’s Johanneburg office — their only African location, opened in December 2013 — is also in attendance.
Smaller firms participating in the trade mission include social entrepreneurship startups and smaller trading groups, such as Osaka-based Century Yamakyu Corporation, whose 79-year-old president Toshi-Hiro Kato is a 50-year veteran of investment in Africa.
So far, 108 Nigerian corporations have requested meetings with members of the Japanese delegation. These range in size and activities. During a business matching session at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, a representative of Coscharis Group (among the nation’s largest investment groups) met with the CEO of WooGWay (a Saitama-based waste management startup) to discuss the possibility of launching a joint venture to bring a plastic waste liquefaction system — which turns plastic waste into oil — to Nnewi, a village in rural Anambra State that has recently become the unlikely site of a profitable plastics manufacturing facility. Meanwhile at a nearby table, Okuzu Tochokwu of Pasvich Nigeria Limited spoke with a representative of a Japanese food company and shared a cell phone video of several fish ponds he has built in a Rivers State housing development.
Nine members of Japan’s resident Nigerian community are also traveling with the trade mission, several as business-owning participants. Many have expressed a long-held hope that the Nigerian community in Japan can serve as a cultural and economic catalyst for trade relations between Japan and Africa.
Justin Okafor, the former Vice Chairman of Japan’s largest expatriate Nigerian civic organization, is among them. “Our primary responsibility is to ensure this trade mission is just the beginning. We have a special responsibility to ensure dialogue between our nations continues after we return to Japan,” he said.
Japanese investment in Nigeria faces a number of obstacles, many of them infrastructural. For instance, during a presentation by Tolaram Group (the Singaporean firm developing the port area of the Lagos Free Trade Zone) company representatives touted plans for providing the zone with abundant, stable electricity by constructing three temporary power stations, powered by natural gas, which was described as “abundant in Nigeria.” But Nigeria recently defaulted on an agreement to provide Ghana with natural gas (due to a shortage) and chose to pay a settlement fee rather than adhere to the original agreement. And Nigeria’s most productive power plant, built by Japanese firm Marubeni and currently owned by KEPCO (Korea), recently posted a loss of roughly $45,107,000, primarily due to natural gas shortages.
Several trade mission participants have nonetheless been able to identify distinct areas of opportunity. Representatives from JX Nippon Oil and Energy — who are seeking a local partner with whom to produce their proprietary lubricant oil, necessary for the use and construction of many Japanese automobiles and a wide variety of heavy machinery — learned that one of the potential Nigerian partners they had identified maintains a large surplus of production capacity. Many of the trade mission’s attendees were also impressed with the scale of the Next Cash & Carry in Abuja, the first of several planned stores modeled after Costco.
Many also indicated that their attendance signaled a shift in their corporation’s strategy, toward a fuller embrace of emerging markets. Said Ochiai Nao, director of Imanaka Limited’s food development division: “For Now, Africa is a tiny piece of our market. Non-existent. But that will change. It has to change.”© Japan Today