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By Innocent Orok

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), National Council for Registration of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria ( CRFFN) among other stakeholders have called on Nigerians to stick to compliance in order for the country to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

Stakeholders who gathered at the The Journal of Freight and Energy one day seminar with the theme “Maximizing Benefits of Intra African Trade under AfCFTA regime” agreed that transparency, compliance and integrity will drive the trade agreement when it kick -off in March next year and that Nigeria with its population should play a leading role.

President Mohammedu Buhari had signed the AfCFTA agreement on behalf of Nigeria in July this year making Nigeria the 54th African Country in the Continent to endorsed the Continental trade pack.

In his presentation, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) said transparent and integrity driven compliance initiative is pivotal in achieving status upgrade to Authorised Economic Operators(AEO) level.

He posited that transparence among Importers, Agents and others operating under customs regulation, can no doubt, help the trading community members in attainment of the Authorised Economic Operators level.

The Customs boss who was represented by Morenike Oladuni, the Customs Area Controller, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) Command, expressed the agency’s readiness to promote seamless business transactions in Nigeria’s ports.

“The successful takeoff of an AEO programme in Nigeria, can only be achieved, if the stakeholders in the international trade supply chain uphold their desire to achieve a transparent, integrity driven, compliant initiative with regards to extant laws governing global trade.

According to Ali “This is part of our efforts to promote the Ease of Doing Business and support the drive to making our ports a transit area for imports and exports.
This degree of compliance, if sustained by Importers, Agents and others operating under Customs regulation,”

He enumerated some of the criteria in applying for the Authorized Economic Operation (AEO)to include, appropriate record of compliance, cargo security, premises and personnel security, information exchange, proven financial solvency and Communication, cooperation and education, training and awareness among others.

On his part the Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside while delivering his paper , revealed that currently, inter African export accounts for only 17 % of total African exports.

He said “This percentage is very low compared to levels in Europe (69 %), Asia (59%) and North America (31% ).
It is projected that from 2020 when the agreement will come into force, depending on the liberalisation efforts of member countries by 2040, intra African trade will increase by nearly 40% – 50 %.

“As trade grows, so does the shipping industry. In this new trade arrangement, any country that is able to dominate the shipping industry will reap more than its proportionate share of the benefit accruing from the new arrangements,”

Dakuku advised stakeholders to take the advantage of the opportunity created through informed investments in the maritime industry.

“It is therefore important to note that irrespective of what all the government agencies are doing and all the good policies in place, if the private stakeholders refuse to take advantage of them and invest in the industry nothing will be achieved.” he said.

In his presentation, the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) Barr. Hassan Bello inform the gathering that the recently signed African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) if successfully implemented, would increase intra-African trade by as much as $35 billion per year or 52% above the baseline by 2022.
Bello who was represented at the event by James Chabulatuda , Operations Officer, Consumer Affairs, of the Council recalled that the Agreement and protocols of the AfCFTA were adopted by Summit in March, 2018 following the deposit of the required 22 ratifications and the Agreement came into effect on 30th May, 2019.
Nigeria and Benin signed the Agreement during the July 2019 summit in Niamey, Niger. and as at 25th September, 2019, all Countries in Africa except Eritrea have signed the Agreement.

Bello added that the Agreement would have the consequence of imports from outside the Continent decrease by $10 billion per year, whereas agricultural and industrial exports would increase by $4 billion and $21 billion above the baseline.

He added that the AfCFTA would boost small and medium sized enterprises by 80% in Africa’s growth by using regional markets as stepping stones for expanding into overseas markets outside Africa.

The Council boss also stated that Nigeria with a population of 200 million, which is the seventh largest in the World, and third largest youth population in the World, 20th world largest economy and strong services, it will create job opportunities for the people as well as opportunities for investment.

Bello maintained that the main objectives of the Agreement includes, expansion of intra-African trade through better harmonisation and coordination of trade within continent.
Enhancement of competitiveness at the enterprise level to support economic transformation, exploitation of economic of scale to take advantage of continental market access.
Others are: adding values to Africa’s natural resource, developing regional value chains and attracting investments into Africa.

At the event the Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) , also assured registered practitioners that it would continue to engage the federal government and other border authorities on the sustainability of the AfCFTA deal.
Tsanni said there has been long standing efforts to deepen country to country trading activities within West Africa under regional economic bodies like ECOWAS, adding that Nigerian freight forwarders have not tapped from neighboring countries in terms of business benefits.

The Council ‘s boss lamented that foreign nationals are comfortable operating as freight forwarders in Nigeria, but noted such cannot occur in neighboring countries in the sub region.

He pointed out that the development contradicts the principles of General Agreement of Tariff and Trade (GATT),which according to him, seek to promote international trade by reducing or eliminate trade barriers.

While harping on the theme of the conference “Maximising Benefits Of Intra Africa Trade Under (AfCFTA), Tsanni reiterated that businesses and trade can only thrived when there are orderliness, mutual respect, obedience to constituted authorities to promote international best practice.

” CRFFN will continue to liaise with government and across the border authorities to ensure that the agreement is not further used to undermine Nigerian freight forwarders like in the past.

” CRFFN under our administration will forge stronger tie with the Nigerian Shippers Council and see how our Nigerian professionals can be allowed unfettered access to practice in other countries , just like we have been allowing other nationals here even before the signing of the AfCFTA agreement.

“We in CRFFN as regulators,are making conscious efforts to improve on the quality and standards of Nigerian freight forwarders” he said.

Speaking further, the CRFFN boss lauded efforts by the Nigerian Shippers Council for the bold steps on the regulatory roles in the transport logistics chain supply.

” We shall pursue and ensure that Nigerian freight forwarders is not duly prevented by their peers in other countries by promoting their unfettered access to businesses outside the shores of Nigeria within the ambit of AfCFTA “,he added.

Speaking earlier, the convener of the conference and publisher of the Journal of Freight and Energy, Mr Ismail Aniemu expressed shock at why the maritime sector is not talking about the agreement as one of the sector’s at the forefront of business in Nigeria and Africa.
He added that people express fear that Nigeria will be turned into a dumping ground by smaller countries.

He also explained that such fears has no place because a country cannot be said to be a dumping ground for goods it is not producing.
He emphasised that the programme was initiated to sensitise people especially maritime stakeholders on the importance of the Agreement as well as the larger picture of the Agreement.

Other dignitaries who graced the event were, Dr Boniface Aniebonam, founder NAGAFF, Hon Tony Uju Nwanbunike, National President ANLCA, Mr Increase Uche, National President, NAGAFF, Deputy Comptroller Dera Nnadi, DC Enforcement, Tin Can Customs Command among others.

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