Statistics has it that Abia State exports over one million pairs of shoes and all kinds of leather products to other parts of Africa on weekly bases, although unofficially.
The State has 250 key entrepreneurs in finished leather and garment production and each employs about 4 people.
Consequently, Abia has about a million people actively engaged in the fashion sub-sector of Nigeria’s economy.
To stop informal trade and boost the economy of Abia State, the Aba smart office of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), the country’s non-oil export promotion outfit, designed a programme aimed at stopping informal trade at the Aba finished leather cluster.
The data collection project of the NEPC, is geared towards capturing the size of the Aba finished leather industry, in terms of daily production, quantity of products sold, daily, the number exported and their countries of destination .
Relicx Shoilban, director, NEPC Smart Office, Aba, explained that the Federal Government is interested in developing the Aba finished leather sector, especially as it is working towards diversifying the country’s economy.
He observed that the advent of crude oil resulted in the neglect of real sector-agriculture and manufacturing, which according to him, was the main stay of Nigeria’s economy, before the discovery of crude oil.
The Council in conjunction with Fidelity Bank and the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, Ghana, has initiated a programme to prepare Aba finished leather and garment makers to export their products to United States of America, officially, through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The State Government is also discussing with the Nigeria-America Chamber of Commerce (NACC) to also utilize the AGOA window to aid the export of Aba-made-leather and garment products to the US.
AGOA is a United States Trade Act that significantly enhances US market access for (currently) 39 sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries.
The act originally covered the eight-year period from October 2000 to September 2008, but further amendments extended it to 2025.
AGOA builds on existing US trade programmes by expanding the (duty-free) benefits previously available only under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme.
Duty-free access to the US market under the combined AGOA/GSP programme stands at approximately 7,000 product tariff lines, including the roughly 1,800 product tariff lines that are added to the GSP by the AGOA legislation.
Notably, these include items such as apparel and footwear, wine, certain motor vehicle components, a variety of agricultural products, chemicals, steel and others.
However, Nigeria has not maximized the opportunities in the Act to export to the large American market, like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and other African countries,
Olusegun Awolowo, executive secretary and chief Executive officer of NEPC, observed that Aba has the potential to export under AGOA.
To take advantage of the AGOA platform to export to the US, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu said, the only way to go and part of what the State need to do quickly is to embrace the NEPC and NACC and leverage on all the opportunities and advantages that will accrue as a result of their interventions.
“ Specifically speaking, I think we have to do something about getting America specification for our goods and services, which is Key, because that is the magic the Chinese used.
“So, whatever we need to do to get their attention and get them to begin to endorse and patronize the things we do, will be huge for us.
Not only in terms of aggregate purchase or take away from our pool, but the endorsement that US has come to say that some of the things that we do in Abia State are good enough for their market, is what we need to reach the rest of the world and I want that to happen in our time, quite shortly.
He thanked that NEPC, NACC and Fidelity Bank plc, for partnering the State to promote Made-In Aba products.
He continued, “But I want assure us that here in Abia State, we have began to take our production system seriously, first of all we are setting standards that in our own considered opinion should be higher than the Nigerian average.
We started by creating a Quality Assurance and Management Agency, just to make sure that goods and services that leave the shores of Abia State, is not only good enough for Nigeria and Africa, but should also meet world standards.
He explained that the quality control agency is collaborating with SON, NAFDAC and other certifying agencies around Nigeria and beyond, to make sure that they set processes and procedures that are capable of delivering goods that are best in its class and range all over the world.
Beyond that, he revealed also that the State Government has been able to draw attention to the way Nigerians perceive and think about locally made products.
He encouraged Nigerians to take pride in patronizing locally made goods, stressing that demand drives perfection.
“The more we demand our goods, the more we can backward integrate and let those who are primary producers do better in terms of quality that they deliver.
“I am mindful about the opportunities that AGOA can present in a standing horizon of market for our people”.
He observed that Aba leather and garment makers have become confident of the things they, stressing that the confidence, would serve as a tonic to match the template, which the stakeholders have set for them.
To further boost trade in Abia, the Governor announced plans to establish a free trade zone in the State.
Already the State has acquired 9000 hectres of land for the project, which is geared towards promoting Made-in-Aba
and Nigeria goods.