Nigeria's trade minister says he hopes a new investment-protection treaty with Canada will help double trade between the two countries by 2015 – but particularly outside the African nation's dominant oil industry.
Given Canada's strength in the oil sector, Nigeria's oil business – despite its reputation for oil theft and corruption – is expected to benefit from the investment deal, announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Nigerian vice-president Namadi Sambo in Ottawa.
But in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Nigeria's Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, said his country's aim is to boost business outside its oil sector, in order to diversify.
Speaking between meetings at the Canada-Nigeria trade conference on Thursday, an event involving scores of senior Nigerian government officials at Toronto's Royal York hotel, Mr. Aganga said the "aspiration" was to double trade with Canada by 2015, but with an emphasis on industries other than oil.
"We have an established relationship in the oil and gas sector," Mr. Aganga said. "We need to establish a stronger relationship in the non-oil sector."
According to a statement from Mr. Harper's office, bilateral trade with Nigeria reached $2.3-billion last year, having doubled since 2006. Canadian direct investment in Nigeria, however, totalled just $36-million.
The new investment treaty, which must still be ratified by the two countries' parliaments, is a major step toward increasing those numbers, Mr. Aganga said.
"One big barrier was the lack of an investment promotion treaty …" said Mr. Aganga. "We did everything to make sure we got it done before this conference."
But Mr. Aganga denied that recent moves by major world oil producers to put assets in Nigeria up for sale were related to the problem of oil theft, or the illegal tapping into pipelines by armed bandits. He said oil investment from around the world was still flowing into Nigeria, although Nigerian firms are also now playing more of a role.
Nigeria's Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Musa Mohammed Sada, said the treaty was key to boosting Canadian interest in Nigeria's mining sector, which he said had been neglected by Canadian investors.
"Us in the mining sector were the first to notice the need for [the investment agreement]," he said in an interview. "When we started with reforms in the sector, we noticed that many of the consultants, the studies and so on, were actually done by Canadian experts. But we could hardly find any Canadian investors."
Mr. Sada said the investment treaty would provide reassurance for Canadian mining companies that they would not see their investments nationalized.
The deal negotiated between Canada and Nigeria, called a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, still must be ratified by the country's parliaments.
These deals typically allow foreign investors the right to seek recourse through arbitration if they feel a government move has harmed their investment – similar to provisions in the North American free trade agreement.