Nigeria has emerged as Austria’s leading trading partner in Africa. According to the Commercial Counsellor, Dr. Albrecht Zimburg, Austria recorded over 70% increase in export to Nigeria up till the last quarter of 2007.
Achieving this feat took the joint efforts of the Austrian Embassy through its indefatigable Commercial Counsellor, Dr. Zimburg and the Austrian Government during its tenure as the President of the EU, 2006. During this period, the Austrian Government mobilised the EU machinery to inform and educate its business community to engage in doing business in Nigeria and Africa, with a newsletter, Go Africa to boot.
On the part of the Commercial Counsellor with an office in Lagos, its task is Herculean for the fact that he has over fifteen African countries under his jurisdiction. It is therefore worthy of note that despite this busy schedule, momentum at promoting Nigeria-Austria business has been sustained.
Part of the Counsellor’s responsibilities include creating awareness through the various chambers of commerce in Austria, participation in trade fairs, partnering with local companies by establishing ‘initial contact’ with Austrian Companies, qualifying companies, assisting with translations, mediating where necessary, encouraging open communication and facilitating visits to break cultural barriers.
These were necessary considering the fact that Nigeria has a bad press and every business is considered a scam until proven otherwise. Further, there was the need for policy change in Austria on its relationship with the most populous country in Africa, therefore a major market for Austrian products and services. These products include consumer items such as energy drinks, machinery, extruding equipment, gas generators and services including aviation technology, medical technology, hydropower and construction amongst others.
Small wonder therefore that Austria’s export to Nigeria hit 162 million Euros in 2007 as against 93 million Euros in 2006. It should be noted that for the first time in many years, the trade balance between both countries was even…usually, a huge surplus for Nigeria because of oil purchase.
Austrian companies are expected to play significant roles in the Nigerian economy particularly in the areas of renewable energy, construction of quick fix bridges, airport towers, medical technology and engagement in financial services as foreign direct investors. Further, as the tourism sector develops, stakeholders would benefit immensely from Vienna experience as Austria’s cultural and convention city.
Some of the ways Nigeria-Austria tie can be further strengthened include:
a. Set up of a bilateral chamber of commerce or trade association
b. Encouragement of trade visits, fairs and exhibitions
c. Establishment of twin cities to facilitate cultural exchange
d. Encouragement of the learning of German language in Nigeria
e. Identification of areas of comparative advantage and the support of its development.
f. Encouragement of more Austrians to visit Oshogbo Shrine in Osun State (and other parts of Nigeria) as a means to opening the tourism gateway to Nigeria, which would eventually translate to more business as cultural barriers collapse.