Did Trump Meet His Match in President of Nigeria?

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

Try as he might, President Trump couldn’t land a deal with Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari at their tête-à-tête in Washington last month.

Deploying his usual tough talk on trade, the U.S. president was shooting for a deal that would open the doors to U.S. farm products by “ripping down” Nigerian trade barriers that protect the fragile state of that country’s agricultural economy.

Nigeria had too many trade barriers, President Trump complained, and should lift those barriers ASAP. He pointed out that Nigeria receives significant aid from the U.S. to fight terrorism and questioned whether the U.S. was getting its money’s worth.

“We give Nigeria well over $1 billion in trade every year, and we have already started talking with the President [Buhari] about taking down the trade barriers; very substantial barriers to the United States trade,” Trump said, adding: “We think we are owed that.”

Nigeria is one of the largest trading partners for the U.S. in Africa and the Nigerian business climate has improved under Mr. Buhari’s anti-corruption watch. If Nigeria “rips down those trade barriers”, it could pave the way for “growing our trade relationship on a principle of fairness and reciprocity,” the U.S. president said.

Details of the conversation were revealed in a recent press briefing by the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

To Trump’s demand, Buhari pushed back, saying that while a lot of Nigerian oil was being sold to the U.S., American trade barriers also posed obstacles for Nigerian farm products seeking markets in the U.S.

Nigeria currently supports thousands of U.S. jobs through its export sales, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. In 2015 (the latest data available), Nigeria supported an estimated 35 thousand U.S. jobs – 17 thousand in goods exports and 18 thousand in services exports.

By developing its own agricultural sector, Nigeria could reduce mass unemployment and an over-reliance on oil which has already left a huge scar on the local environment.

During the same visit by President Buhari, a multi-billion dollar deal with General Electric was signed for the rehabilitation of Nigeria’s dilapidated railways. Partners in the deal include China’s Sinohydro, South Africa’s Transnet and APM Terminals of the Netherlands.

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