WTO’s $1.2m programme‘ll address Nigeria’s agricultural export challenges – Okonjo-Iweala

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has inaugurated a 1.2 million-dollar programme to improve export standards of Nigeria’s sesame and cowpea products.

The WTO Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said this at the launch of the seven trade support programmes for Nigeria initiated by the WTO, World Bank, and ITC on Tuesday in Abuja.

Okonjo-Iweala said the projects aimed at tackling cases of rejection of Nigeria’s products on the international market.

She said the project was inaugurated with the Standards Trade Development Facility (STDF), International Trade Centre (ITC), and the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC).

According to her, the project will support international safety and quality certification for sesame and cowpeas in Nigeria.

She said Nigeria’s agriculture sector had the potential to be a major driver of export diversification and job creation, but too much of this potential remained unrealized due to barriers.

“We all know the story about Nigeria being a significant exporter of palm kernels, groundnuts, palm oil, cotton, and cocoa, but the country has since become a net importer of many of these goods.

“In fact, Nigeria has not only lost out in agricultural export markets; it is also a net food importer, spending about billions a year on goods, many of which we can also produce here.

“Nigeria used to be a formidable agricultural exporter. Up until the mid-1960s, the country’s share of world agricultural exports was more than one per cent.

“However, agricultural exports collapsed as the economy shifted towards petroleum exploitation, and by the mid-1980s, Nigeria’s world market share for agricultural products had dwindled to less than 0.1 percent,” she said.

According to the director-general, some of Nigeria’s unrealised potential has to do with trade-related problems on the supply side, and that is what this project is seeking to rectify.

She said Nigeria was the world’s largest producer and consumer of cowpeas and the world’s largest producer of sesame, exporting to the EU, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian markets.

She said Nigerian cowpea and sesame exports had increasingly faced rejections in several destination markets due to non-compliance with international Standard Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) requirements.

According to Okonjo-Iweala, this new project aims to build the capacities of stakeholders across the sesame and cowpea value chains to better understand market access requirements.

She said it would improve agricultural practices such as pesticide application, hygiene techniques, harvest and post-harvest methods, and food safety.

She said, “The project, which will kick off with an initial amount of 1.2 million dollars, of which nearly a million comes from STDF, will also be used to train local food safety advisers.

“This type of project is one I term a low-expenditure, high-impact project. The WTO is not a financing agency like the World Bank or IMF, but it has a wonderful secret that I find very attractive.

“It spends small sums of money to make a big impact. You cannot imagine how a million-dollar intervention can earn Nigeria hundreds of millions, if not billions, in increased agricultural exports.

“Supporting improved incomes for farmers, exporters, businesses, and others once agriculture producers and exporters follow the correct sanitary and phytosanitary standards.”

Meanwhile, the NEPC Executive Director, Nonye Ayeni, reiterated the challenges of rejection faced by Nigerian food exports, including sesame and cowpea.

She said the challenges were mainly due to poor quality, inefficient procedures and documentation, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, and improper packaging and labelling, among others.

She said, “A good number of these factors led to the decision of WTO/ITC to sponsor the STDF project, which will be backed by expected 30 per cent counterpart funding from NEPC.

“This project, STDF 845, will therefore enhance the quality and standard of sesame and cowpea through the institution of good Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) conduct, Good Agricultural and Warehousing Practices (GAWP), packaging/labelling and excellent storage systems.

“All these are expected to forestall frequent contract cancellations and loss of business opportunities while allowing a significant increase in global acceptance of the items and the better quality of these products consumed locally.”

Ayeni further said the project was designed to last for three years with the objective of enhancing the integrity of cowpea and the sesame value chain in Nigeria.

“Therefore, the focus lies on improved practices that will enable Nigerian stakeholders to comply with the maximum residue levels of selected pesticides used in cowpeas and sesame and microbiological contamination with Salmonella (Sesame).

“Overall, it will improve the regulatory and control system as well as farming and processing practices applied for cowpea and sesame,” Ayeni stated.

Also, Dr Doris Uzoka-Anite, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment, commended the WTO and the ITC for the inauguration of the STDF programme.

She said this would complement President Bola Tinubu’s administration’s endeavours to leverage trade for economic expansion and unlock economic prospects for the Nigerian populace.

“We also heartily welcome today’s launch of the STDF, a global partnership that works to strengthen food safety, animal, and plant health capacity in developing countries.

“By encouraging the use of good practices to facilitate safe trade worldwide.

“This focus empowers us to put the best of Nigeria on the global market, boosting safety and security for our people and opening doors for our businesses,” she said.

Uzoka-Anite expressed confidence that the programmes would support the federal government’s efforts towards ensuring the safety, integrity, and marketability of Nigeria’s goods and services. (NAN)

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