As hundreds of Nigerian officials prepare to travel to Toronto in a few weeks for a major investment conference, it appears Nigeria and Canada are not on the same page when it comes to a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) between the two countries.
At a media briefing in Ottawa Tuesday, Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada Ojo Maduekwe said Nigerian Vice-President Namadi Sambo and Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru expect to conclude negotiations and sign a FIPA at the beginning of May, when a massive delegation of 150 to 200 Nigerian officials travels to Toronto for the Canada-Nigeria Investment Conference.
“When he (Sambo) comes in May, he expects that all the negotiations and discussions for the trade agreement will have been concluded between the two parties. He was looking forward to signing when he comes,” said Maduekwe.
However, the Canadian government does not appear to be on the same wavelength as the Nigerians.
International Trade said Canada and Nigeria are currently in “exploratory discussions towards a potential FIPA” with Nigeria, adding that the negotiations are “not formal” at this point. The department said Canadian negotiators are in Nigeria this week to discuss the potential agreement. An International Trade spokesperson did not indicate whether Canada intends to sign a FIPA when the Nigerian delegation comes to Toronto in May.
“We can only confirm that negotiations are ongoing,” said the spokesperson in an email.
DFAIT also does not have the negotiation listed on its website, where it lists enforced FIPAs, concluded and ongoing negotiations. When asked why the Nigerian negotiations are not listed on DFAIT’s website, International Trade Minister Ed Fast’s office reiterated that discussions are only focused on a potential FIPA at this point.
Maduekwe said he was not aware FIPA discussions were not listed on the website, and that he planned to raise the issue with DFAIT.
The difference of opinion between Canada and Nigeria comes as NDP International Trade Critic Don Davies has been taking the government to task over its closed-door FIPA negotiations. Davies tabled a motion Thursday calling on the government to inform China that Canada will not ratify a FIPA until there is a full debate in the House of Commons.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Ashiru released a joint communiqué in Abuja, Nigeria last October in which both countries announced they would initiate discussions and negotiations on agreements as need be, including a FIPA.
From the Nigerian side of things, Maduekwe said the communiqué marked an agreement to begin formal negotiations. After months of back and forth between both countries, Maduekwe said negotiations are in an advanced stage, likely leading to a signed FIPA in May.
“We are past the stage of an agreement to negotiate because negotiations (are) already on,” said Maduekwe. “The communiqué expressed a commitment to negotiate.”
In fact, Maduekwe said there were expectations a FIPA would be signed in January when Fast visited Nigeria and Ghana for a trade mission. However, he said the agreement was held back by Nigeria, which was still “looking at the small print.” Some of Nigeria’s concerns included a move away from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agreement model to the Canadian FIPA model. Maduekwe said Nigeria also wanted to ensure the agreement actually would be implemented.
“Nigeria is saying we want to have a trade agreement with Canada, we are excited about it … We just don’t want a piece of paper that will just go on the shelf.”
Canada has not enforced a FIPA in more than a year, and has concluded negotiations or signed a FIPA with ten countries — but has not ratified the agreements. Of those ten countries, seven are African.
After months of negotiations, Maduekwe said Nigeria is prepared to sign a FIPA in May. It’s just a matter of whether the Canadians are ready to present a final agreement. Despite the fact that the Canadian government said it has not entered formal FIPA negotiations with Nigeria, Maduekwe said a document he saw Wednesday indicates things are moving forward.
“I got a letter from Abuja from the minister of Foreign Affairs requesting about three Canadian officials to come over to Nigeria to conclude (FIPA negotiations),” he said. “This request … can only mean this is at the concluding stage.”
Maduekwe said he is anxious for both countries to sign a FIPA soon. With more than 400 participants, including Bombardier, SNC Lavalin and Blackberry, expected at the investment conference in May, a signed FIPA will encourage Canadian businesses to invest in Nigeria with confidence.
“Come on, let’s get this thing over with quickly because I see the opportunities for my country when this thing is concluded,” said Maduekwe. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.”
Entering into a FIPA with Nigeria undoubtably would encourage more Canadian investment in the resource-rich West African country. With $2.7 billion in merchandise trade between the two countries in 2011, Canada’s commercial relationship with Nigeria is its largest in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the government’s website, Canadian interests in Nigeria include oil and gas, telecommunications, mining technology and transportation.
-----------Michelle Zilio, I Politics, April 18, 2013