International buyers and global construction companies are increasingly buying Nigeria’s steel products, as local manufacturers raise their game in terms of quality and finishing.
“International companies that make high-rise buildings, bridges and other construction work requiring quality steel now buy from us, “said Raj Gupta, chairman, African Industries Group, a consortium of 12 companies, including six steel plants.
“In the past they were not comfortable buying from us but this has changed. Our company has an international certification for quality of steel. Now you don’t compare steel from Nigeria with Chinese or Ukrainian steel. You compare what we produce with Japanese and German steel. And now, virtually all the construction companies are buying made-in-Nigeria steel products,” Gupta, whose firm controls 60-70 percent of the steel sector in Nigeria told BusinessDay.
The steel sector encompasses makers of primary and secondary aluminium products, cold rolled coils, wire rods, enamelware, galvanised iron and steel, nails and wire, steel pipes and steel.
However, iron rods and heavy metals feature prominently among steel products from Nigeria, demanded in large quantity. “The demand of our steel products is growing significantly, but the major challenge we have is that the global prices are very low now,” said a medium-scale player in the steel industry and member of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), who does not want to be named.
Major construction companies across the world include: ACS, Actividades de Construction Servicios SA, Madrid, Spain; HOCHTIEFAktiengesellschaft, Essen, Germany; China Communications Construction; Technip, France; Saipem, Hyundai, China Railway and Julius Berger, among others.
Similar to steel, are major agricultural commodities such as cocoa, rubber, goat skin and leather, sesame seeds, Gum Arabic, cashew nuts and cotton, among others, which are now hot cakes in the international market.
BusinessDay gathered that Italian, Spanish and Chinese traders scramble for animal skins from Nigeria’s north, as they are of high quality and often scarce.
In 2013, the Netherlands bought sheep, goatskins and leather worth $ 622,407 from Nigeria, while Italy, known widely as a producer of quality shoes, spent $ 355.63 million buying these commodities from Nigeria.
Spain bought animal skins worth $ 51.67 million, while India spent $ 24 million. The trend has not been different for 2014 and 2015. “Animal skins from the north are often very good. We do not always get it now because they are mostly bought by people from other countries,” said Nnabugwu Osondu, secretary, Shoe, Bag, Belt and Trunk Box Association in Abia State.
Nigeria’s cocoa beans sell like hot cake in the global market, being bought by the Netherlands, the United States, Britain, Italy and other chocolates makers across the world.
Trade experts rate Nigeria’s cocoa highly on the back of its consistency when used in production of chocolates.
According to Tunde Oyelola, chairman, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria Export Group (MANEG), Nigeria’s cocoa and most of the agro products have high quality, which accounts for why they are demanded in large quantity by foreign firms.
Some international companies like Bridgestone are buying Nigeria’s rubber from Sapele Integrated Industries, a crumb rubber exporter.
In several parts of Africa, commodities and products from Nigeria are highly respected on the back of improvement in quality and better finishing.
Ejarkaminor Riicolins Sylvester, president, Socio-cultural Integrations of African Youths Organisation (SCIAYO), who is based in Ivory Coast, told BusinessDay that most Nigerian commodities are highly sought after in French-speaking West African countries.
“Nigerian products are highly respected in Coted’Ivoire. I opened a restaurant and served an ambassador a bottle of Viju Milk and he said it’s the best in the country. Some of the countries are already imitating Nigerian products,” Sylvester said.
Apart from agro-allied products, Nigeria’s coal is highly demanded in the global market on account of its low sulphur, said the National Bureau of Statistics.
Inspite of the positives, especially in the foods and steel sub-sectors, experts say Nigeria’s exporters must continue to pay attention to quality, to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2015, when some food products from the country were rejected by the European Union.
“When the international community sets standards or date for compliance, we do not have to dilly-dally, believing that our commodities will be accepted when we export them,” said Charles Malata, technical supervisor, the National Quality Infrastructure (NQI), a project supervised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), at the media professionals’ workshop, tagged ‘The Concept of Quality in Nigeria’ held in Minna, Niger State. “What many exporters do not seem to understand is that there is an increasing restriction in the international market and this will likely continue. If we are to participate in global trade, we cannot ignore standards and international arrangements,” Malata said.