Global economic downturn: Dangote urges government to protect local industries

President of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, has advocated for policies that safeguard domestic industries and cultivate them into indigenous champions capable of generating jobs and fostering prosperity in the face of current global economic woes.

The foremost entrepreneur told the gathering of manufacturers and investors in Abuja while delivering a speech on ‘Rethinking Manufacturing in Nigeria’ as the keynote speaker at the Nigeria Manufacturers’ Summit that Nigeria has what it takes to be prosperous.

Dangote who noted that through there are various factors contributing to the underperformance of the manufacturing sector, emphasized that the crucial issue requiring attention is government policy and its approach toward investments and investors.

He pointed out that industrial or manufacturing entities are not like trading entities while expressing his belief that the fundamental role and responsibility of government should be not only to promote investments and attract investors in manufacturing but also to ensure that these investments are nurtured and protected to facilitate growth and sustainability.

“In every economic regime, including the most advanced, investment projects in manufacturing and industrial sectors need time and a conducive environment for them to mature, build capacity and scale, to become competitive against those in older and more mature markets.

“But since the Mid 1980’s non-industrialized countries and their leaders have been discouraged from protecting and supporting such investment and forced to expose them to unfair competition from stronger, older competitors in their own internal market, even before the newcomers are commissioned. Yet these same older/bigger players are well supported in their home markets,” he said.

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He listed several examples of government intervention to protect industries: the blocked sale of US steel to Nippon Steel of Japan, the blocked sale of six US port management companies to Dubai Ports World, restrictions on Chinese cranes at US ports, and the US imposition of tariffs such as 100% on Chinese EVs, 50% on semiconductors, medical products, and solar panels. He also cited the restriction of Russian gas supply to Europe, which led European countries to increase coal usage despite opposition to fossil fuels, and the US government’s distribution of $39 billion in subsidies to incentivize local microchip production.

Dangote referred to Asia as having achieved significant levels of industrialization by pursuing industrial policies where the government played an active role in nurturing and supporting local companies. They subsequently leveraged this success to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) into Free Trade Zones.

He emphasized that Government Protection of the industry, does not solely encompass short to medium-term Regulatory Mechanisms such as tax holidays and other incentives which have their place in industrial policy and should be applied when necessary to mitigate investment challenges.

“I am concerned with a long term policy framework which ensures that investors can invest with the understanding that the industry will in the long run be regarded as a national asset and not just investor’s assets, so that when it is threatened, either by external forces or by changes in the environment beyond the control of individual operators, Government will take appropriate action to protect investors and support them to survive the threat. Almost all countries did this in response to the COVID threat. Those in the pharmaceutical industry may well remember how India protected and supported its pharmaceutical industry,” he said while noting that if such policy had been adopted in the past, Nigeria would boost a flourishing textile and tyre industry as well as functioning refineries.

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“If we had adopted such a policy and Government attitude to the Textile Industry and tyre industry in the 80’s and early 90’s, perhaps our economy today will still be benefitting from the job creation capacities of these industries. Or if we had adopted this attitude to our Refining industry, Nigerians would not today be too anxious about Dangote Refinery,” he stated.

Disputing assertions that protecting domestic industries leads to reduced competitiveness, Dangote argued to the contrary, citing examples such as China, Korea, India, and various other Asian nations. He pointed out that these countries successfully developed into robust economies and posed a challenge to the established global economic order precisely because they protected their industries.

He noted that in the past, Nigeria was not competitive in cement production, producing less than 2 million tons of cement per annum up to 2007. He pointed out that due to strategic government policies and support, Nigeria has since become Africa’s largest cement producer and exporter, ranking among the top 10 globally in competitiveness.

Dangote noted that in 2023, Dangote Cement alone contributed more tax revenue to the government than the entire banking sector. “In the past, Nigeria was not competitive in cement production. Up to 2007, Nigeria produced less than 2m tons of cement per annum. Today we have about 60m tons of production capacity and another 9m under construction. The foundation for this success story was laid by an administration which decided to extend full support and protection to Nigeria’s cement industry. Today we are among the 10 most competitive cement producers in the world and the biggest cement producer and cement exporter in Africa. In 2023, Dangote Cement alone paid more taxes into the coffers of the government than the entire banking industry,” he said.

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Dangote also refuted claims that protecting industries would lead to monopoly, stating that it is common knowledge that foreign investors only come when they see that local investors are also doing well.

“I am convinced that when Government Policy becomes more supportive and protective, investors will be more willing to collaborate and partner with the Government in resolving other challenges such as infrastructure deficits, market instabilities and macro-economic issues such as inflation and foreign exchange volatilities,” he added.

Reiterating that Nigeria has all it takes to develop and sustain a globally competitive manufacturing sector, Dangote called for re-thinking of her industrialization policy, by learning from leading countries in the West and the East who are actively protecting their domestic industries.

 

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