Financial experts and stakeholders, who spoke at this year’s edition of the annual workshop of the Finance Correspondents Association of Nigeria (FICAN), held in Lagos at the weekend, identified various ways in which the country can boost earnings from non-oil exports and end its oil dependency, writes TONY CHUKWUNYEM
Given that one of the biggest stories in the local media these days is the acute scarcity of foreign exchange and how Nigeria is grappling with low crude oil production at a time, when the Russia-Ukraine crisis has pushed up the price of the commodity(which accounts for over 80 per cent of the country’s foreign earnings), industry watchers would not have been caught unawares by the Finance Correspondents Association of Nigeria’s (FICAN) theme for its 2022 annual conference-“Boosting Domestic Capacity for Sustainable Export Earnings.”
Indeed, as was widely expected, the workshop was also an opportunity for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and stakeholders to discuss the apex bank’s RT200 FX programme.
When CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, unveiled the programme on February 10, he had said that the “Race to $200 billion in FX Repatriation (RT200 FX Programme),” which, is aimed at helping the country attract $200 billion in FX repatriation, exclusively from non-oil export transactions over the next three to five years, was anchored on five pillars.
According to him, the five pillars: Value-Adding Exports Facility, Non- Oil Commodities Expansion Facility, Non-Oil FX Rebate Scheme, Dedicated Non-Oil Export Terminal and Bi-annual Non-Oil Export Summit, were all critical in ensuring that the RT200 programme, fulfils its goal of significantly curbing Nigeria’s dependence on crude oil exports.
N23.6bn in rebates
However, with access to finance a critical factor to the success of businesses, the third pillar of the RT 200 programme- Non-oil FX Rebate Scheme- seems to have attracted more attention than the other pillars.
For instance, the Bankers’ Committee told journalists at the end of its second meeting this year, on April 14, that CBN had released N3.5 billion in Q1’ 2022 in rebates to 150 eligible exporters through deposit money banks (DMBs) under the rebate scheme.
The committee also disclosed that through the programme, the country earned $60 million in non-oil export FX earnings.
Similarly, at the post-Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) briefing in July, Emefiele announced that the apex bank paid eligible exporters over N20 billion rebates in the second quarter of implementing the RT200 FX programme for exports worth $600 million.
The CBN governor said: “We are de- lighted that the race to $200 billion is yielding good results under the RT200 programme because in the data that we have so far, we found out that we have received inflow as at June this year of over $2.9 billon.
“And we all know that in the first quarter when we started, we disbursed N3.6 billion as rebate for those who have conducted export activities. For quarter two, we have just approved the release and payment and rebate to those who conducted export activities to the tune of N20 billion for quarter two.
“You can see a jump from N3.6 billion in quarter one to N20 billion in quarter two because, whereas we found out that, yes there has been a lot of exports, those exports that were found to be eligible for the reason were in the tune of over $600 million and that is the reason why we are paying slightly over N20 billion in the second quarter.
“Exports in earnings are increasing and we have calculated that at some point, we will get to a point where the banks will not even need to come to CBN to buy foreign exchange for the needs of their customers.” “We are delighted that we are moving gradually in that direction and this number will improve by the end of the year,” he added.
At the FICAN workshop on Saturday, the Principal Manager, Trade and Exchange Department at CBN, Mrs. Nnenna Ezekannagha, echoed Emefiele’s sentiments, stating that the RT200 policy has begun to attract more commodities into the Nigerian export register.
Ezekannagha said: “We have seen a significant improvement, not just in the figures that are being repatriated, but also in the number of exporters that are willing to come to the formal sector. Because a lot of our export has been happening informally, but with this scheme, we have found that a lot more players in the export sector are willing to come to the formal sector.
“So, we are also noticing not just the increase in the figures, but also in the increase of the commodities that we are exporting that was reported earlier. Like the solid minerals, we are seeing more in the solid minerals and we are seeing more players in that sector, coming into the formal sector to report their exports and participate in the RT200.”
Also, while presenting his paper titled: “Boosting Domestic Capacity for Sustainable Export Earnings — the UBA Perspective,” the Deputy Managing Director of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Mr. Muyiwa Akinyemi, disclosed that the: “Top 200 non-oil exporters control over 95 per cent of the $4.2 billion of the industry volume in 2021.”
According to him, the $4.2 billion recorded in 2021 did not include informal exports in some sectors such as information technology, entertainment and solid minerals. He further disclosed that “major items of non-oil exports, including cocoa, cashew, sesame seeds, hibiscus, fertilisers/chemicals, tobacco, hides and skin accounted for 85 per cent of total export.”
Akinyemi stated that UBA “facilitated $1.34 billion (31 per cent) in non-oil export volume in 2021,” adding that the feat confirmed UBA’s status as Nigeria’s number one export bank for three years running.
In her keynote address at the event, the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Mrs. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, urged Nigerians, who are in the business of exporting commodities, to strive to move up to the export of value-added processed commodity items to earn more foreign exchange and improve Nigeria’s balance of trade.
Onyeali-Ikpe said transitioning to value-added exports would provide immediate revenue uplift even without expansion of the primary commodity supply side. She proposed that a step forward was to move from cocoa beans to cocoa butter or powder and also move from raw cashew nuts to kernels, to triple the foreign exchange revenues Nigeria earns from these commodities. She said:
“At 3x increase in revenue, Nigeria can move cocoa exports to $3 billion per annum (currently about $1 billion) and cashew to $600 million (currently about $200 million) in the short term to medium term. “If we then doubled the capacity of our plantations as well as processing capacity, we can exponentially move the numbers.” She stressed that Nigeria has no choice, but to intensify efforts to boost its non-oil exports.
“When we say export or bleed out, people think that we are being overly dramatic. We are not. That is literally what happens to your economy when you don’t export.
“It can no longer be business as usual if Nigeria is going to navigate itself out of current trade imbalances, before we had the luxury of not paying attention to the Non-oil Export space. It now presents an existential threat,” she warned.
She noted that the push for clean energy in the advanced economies and the emergence of electric vehicle is brewing a perfect storm for Nigeria, stating that: “Externalities like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA), which means freer movement of capital, talent and enterprise compounds the problem. It is swim or sink.”
According to the Fidelity Bank boss: “Never has the need for expansion of Nigeria’s non-oil exports been more critical, given current economic situations.
These headwinds have again reinforced the need for local businesses to diversify their markets to hedge against consequent shifts in macro-economic indices including but not limited to inflationary and exchange rate movements. “Most of our raw cashew nut exports go to Vietnam where more value is added to it and then re-exported.
In 2020, Vietnam imported $1.5 billion worth of raw cashew nuts from Africa, added value to them and exported $3 billion processed kernels. The uplift of $1.5 billion represents jobs and tax revenue opportunities that we could have created if this value addition was done in Africa.”
On his part, the Director General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mr. Lamido Yuguda, noted that the Nigerian capital market had a significant role to play in contributing to the country’s foreign exchange earnings by attracting more foreign portfolio and direct investments.
Yuguda said the 10-year Nigerian Capital Market Master Plan (2015-2025) was built around four strategic themes, one of which is to “promote competitiveness by establishing practices that improve transparency, efficiency and liquidity and to attract sustainable interest in the capital market from domestic, as well as foreign investors and participants.” He, however, regretted that over the past fifteen years, foreign transactions in the Nigerian exchange decreased by 29.38 per cent from N616 billion to N435 billion.
Specifically, he said that in 2021, total domestic transactions accounted for about 77 per cent of the total transactions carried out in 2021, whilst foreign transactions accounted for about 23 per cent of the total transactions in the same period. He attributed the poor participation of international investors in the market to “sustained forex illiquidity concerns, which have resulted in many foreign investors pulling out of the Nigerian market, leading to the decline in foreign participation in the equity market.”
He, however, added: “But we believe that implementation of the roadmap for vibrant commodities trading ecosystem in Nigeria by the Commission will support the development of the agricultural sector and diversification of the Nigerian economy and ultimately, advance the country towards attaining sustainable foreign exchange earnings.”
Other participants at the workshop, such as representatives of the Bank of Industry, Nigeria Export and Import Bank and the Nigeria Shippers Council, amongst others, also offered suggestions on how to boost non-oil exports.
However, the consensus among participants at the workshop is that the challenges affecting the non-oil export sector are structural in nature, meaning that they can only be effectively tackled by the fiscal authorities.