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WTO: Nigeria Needs Major Reform

June 24, 1998

GENEVA (AP) _ The World Trade Organization pressed Nigeria’s new leader on Wednesday to institute political and economic reforms that were long delayed by his predecessor.

The West African nation’s political instability and volatile economy are discouraging foreign investment and trade, said a report by the Geneva-based WTO.

Nigeria’s oil business, which represents more than 95 percent of Nigeria’s export trade and three-quarters of government revenue, is dynamic compared to other parts of the economy.

But even the oil industry has been hindered by ``inappropriate policies″ that contribute to the deterioration of refineries and cause serious shortages of petroleum products in Nigeria itself.

Nigeria’s new government, led by Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, should reduce import restrictions and privatize state industries to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil, the report said.

Abubakar took power June 8 after Gen. Sani Abacha’s brutal, five-year dictatorship came to an end with his fatal heart attack.

Even with a change in leadership, little in Nigeria functions these days, from the water supply to the telephones. Crime is rampant.

Nigeria, a founding member of the 132-nation WTO, should try to reduce its high external debt and prevent arrears from accumulating, the report said. This would increase its ability to attract much needed foreign investment outside the oil business.

At a WTO committee meeting in Geneva, European Union officials said Nigeria’s disappointing economic performance resulted from widespread corruption, fraud, mismanagement, overregulation and lack of accountability.

Emmanuel Udogu, Nigeria’s commerce and tourism minister, said his nation was committed to multilateral trade and was pursuing liberal economic policies as well as trade and investment reforms.

He said existing state monopolies would be privatized, starting with the national telecommunications group, Nigeria Telecommunications Ltd, before the end of the year.

``While we note and acknowledge what we have not done, we urge our trading partners to recognize and give us credit for what we have been able to do,″ he said.

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