Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nigeria-Israel Business Relationship: The Journey So Far!

Nigeria-Israel business and cultural relationship is on the upward swing. In recent years since the renewal of diplomatic ties between both countries, many Israeli firms have located in the country while increase in trade and commerce have been recorded. On the cultural front, there seem to be one-way traffic of Nigerian Christians visiting the Holyland. The same may not be said of Israelis coming to Nigeria on tours.

Our correspondent, Festus Owete met with Yair Frommer*, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Israel at Abuja. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

What would you consider the major achievements of your embassy in forging business relationship with Nigeria in 2006 and what are your projections for this year, 2007?

During the past year, we meant to make very important steps in strengthening the strong economic and commercial relations between Israel and Nigeria and this was manifest in many events that we held in Nigeria and Israel. First and perhaps the most important is the inauguration of Nigeria-Israel Business Forum which comprised people from the business sector and public sector who are interested in relations with Israel. Right now we have about 100 members of the Nigeria-Israel Business Forum. It will be enlarged this year. We are going to strengthen business opportunity and building on them between the two countries.
I will also mention some major events that took place in Israel in which Nigeria delegation participated. The three most important were the Prime Minister Business Conference, which was held in November 2006 in which there was participation of senior Nigeria delegation headed by the Honourable Minister of Environment and the Honourable Minister of Co-operation and Integration in Africa; Agriculture Technology 2006 exhibition, which is the leading Exhibition in the world for agricultural commodity. We had a very senior delegation and over one hundred Nigerians participated. The official delegation was headed by the Minister of Agriculture.

Another event was Israel Telecom 2006 exhibition in which again we had a very strong delegation headed this time by the Minister of Communication. We had many governors and other officials from Nigeria who visited Israel and many Israeli businessmen came to Nigeria to seek opportunities. We hope to extend this collaboration in 2007 to hold some major events in Nigeria in which Israeli official delegation will participate.

Were these events you mentioned favourable to Nigeria in any way? In other words, has Nigeria really benefited from this relationship with Israel?

Certainly, Nigeria is the major beneficiary but both countries are benefiting. The stronger the relations are, the more benefit there is for both countries because Israel has a lot of technologies and industries that are relevant to Nigeria for its development. Nigeria has a lot of resources and also capacity in economic terms at is relevant to Israel and the collaboration is beneficial to both.

If you look at Nigeria, it has enormous potentials to become a leading world power in agricultural production and it can benefit and it does indeed enjoy and benefit from the Israeli technology and Israeli companies that are investing in Nigeria. And we believe there are a lot more to do and a lot more of collaboration. This is just an example but of course, more food security and more income generating projects for Nigeria will come through collaboration with Israel.

What are the other business sectors that Israel engaged in and of what relevance are they to developing countries like Nigeria?

The major sectors in which Israel companies in Nigeria and Africa are engaged in are the Construction, Infrastructure and Telecommunication which is becoming very strong (Nigeria is a very important market for telecommunication because it is an expanding market) and agriculture and agricultural technology as I mentioned before. Other important sector will be civil security and civil engineering and many sectors.

We are aware of your collaboration with National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) in the area of information and communication technology. What do you intend to achieve?

NOTAP is one of many agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is under the Ministry of Science and Technology and it is a very important agency because its main target is to promote acquisition of technology which means to improve the ability of economic sector in Nigeria to produce more, to be more efficient. And this is very important if you want to become part of the international economy.

We believe that Israel has a lot to offer in terms of transport technology and technical assistance and we have done so mainly through training programs. There are many institutions in Israel which work together with Israeli Government which are bringing people from Nigeria to Israel to experience first time Israeli technology and many of those people are coming back to Nigeria with better skill and knowledge and with a lot of good contacts that they can use to improve their businesses.

With the economic reforms and war against corruption Nigerian economy is opening up as the government calls for foreign direct investment. Have Israeli businesses been responding to this call or are there still some reservations?

Israeli companies are interested in coming into Nigeria. This is the essence of direct investment. I must say Nigerian economy is being liberalized and it is today more open economy than it used to be two decades ago. And this is something that is encouraged both by Nigeria government and Israeli government. A lot of these investments will yield result depending on how economic it is for a company to come into Nigeria.

What efforts have you made in encouraging the activities of the Nigeria-Israel Chamber of Commerce?

That is the bilateral chamber of commerce operating from Lagos. The current President of the chamber is Senator Ben Obi from Anambra State but we have manymembers from across Nigeria. We are encouraging their activities and we are also assisting them in publishing quarterly publication which is called NICC News. And we are sharing information with chamber on anything that is relevant. There is also Israel-Africa Chamber of Commerce which operates from Tel Aviv in Israel.

But in your opinion what actions are necessary to encourage business relations between Nigerian and Israeli small and medium scale enterprises?

Small and medium scale enterprises are of major importance for the stability and sustainability of modern economic system. In Israel, there are small and medium enterprises highly developed and they are working together with Israeli Export Institute (IEI) and Israeli Union of Industrialists and there is a lot of cooperation between the government and those entities. What is important I think is to create more awareness to the possibilities and this should be done through spreading information, approaching those institutions.
For example the IEI is a highly effective tool in spreading information and being in touch with these organizations is quite vital if you want information to pass in an effective way to all those small and medium scale enterprises. They usually don’t have the means on their own to collect the information. They are depending more on the information that are collected through these unions and organization.

* Mr. Yair Frommer has since been reposted to another country.

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