He made this disclosure to State House Correspondents yesterday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
LEADERSHIP recalls that during President Muhammadu Buhari ‘s visit to China, an agreement on a ‘Mandate Letter Between the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Central Bank of Nigeria on Renminbi (RMB) Transactions’ was signed.
But the minister said, “It’s not really a swap. What it takes is that as the Chinese economy goes strong, there is some pressure on them from the trading partners, international financial institutions. They agreed that the money should be internationalised. So, they started that for a while. They were protecting it also.
“They did not allow it to be fully exchangeable. But now their economy is fully strong, they are looking for a way to internationalise the currency. Now, they were saying, essentially, that they wanted to segment it.
“For Southern Africa, South Africa is going to be the sort of a hub for the currency. So, they are going to be the focal point for the Chinese to make that available for trade in that area.
“In West Africa, they are looking for a hub. Ghana is interested in being the hub for the currency to circulate it for those who want to use it. It is not compulsory.
But Nigeria is a bigger country with bigger economy. So that does make sense. And they became a kind of attracted to Nigeria to be the hub. So, for us, the benefit is that it gives us small flexibility.
” So, if Nigeria is buying Chinese goods, for instance, it will be in our interest to use the Yuan because we know there is a lot of squeeze for the dollar; but we still use the dollar. But if it is not enough and there are some people who want to invest in the country, instead of crying that they cannot take dollar out, there might be Yuan that they would be happy to take out because it is now internationalised as a currency and they can use it. So, it gives us a much larger option.”
Minister Onyema also noted the complaints of importers about not being able to access the dollar to buy goods, and said that, in addition to dollar, if they can have Yuan available.
“So, it has given the country a greater opportunity for the economy so that those people can also now import notwithstanding the shortage of dollars. So, that is really what it’s more about, rather than a swap deal or any such thing,” he explained.
Asked how Nigeria would benefit from Chinese investments in the county, he said, “It depends on each agreement. If we have an agreement where we insist that there should be much greater local participation, if they want to come in and invest in building railway lines, there should be a certain number of Nigerians. But I think, as a government, we will obviously be looking at that kind of agreement.
I am sure that the minister of Labour will have a say in ensuring that any big project we enter is in the interest of Nigeria, and we are going to get something out of it, not just the infrastructure, but also it should provide jobs,” Onyema stated.
On whether, the deal with China will not affect Nigeria’s relationship with the West, he recalled that “what has helped China so fast in 30 years is because of the investments of the West in China. That is really what has transformed the Chinese economy – the Japanese, Germans and Americans.
“So we will not have any problem with the West. China is part of the world trade organisation and part of the international trading system.”
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