Plans by the Federal Government to further promote the Ease of Doing Business in the country in line with Executive Order 1 on cargo palletisation have been opposed by major importers and terminal operators. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
An initiative by the Presidential Committee on Ease of Doing Business, which stipulates that all containerised cargoes coming into Nigeria must be palletised, has been stiffly opposed by manufacturers, terminal operators, importers and customs agents.
The new mandatory import and export policy was designed to assist the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and other relevant government agencies to quicken physical examination of containerised cargoes coming into the country.
The full implementation of the policy commenced last month. Announcing the policy to port stakeholders last year, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said that the palletisation of cargoes coming into the country would aid manual examination of consignments, while the country awaits the acquisition and installation of functional scanners at seaports and land borders.
The minister said that the government had focused attention on reducing time spent on the processing of exports and imports in order to ensure 24 hours clearance of cargo.
However, terminal operators, manufacturers, importers, freight forwarders, customs agents and other port users, who opposed the policy, advised the Federal Government to reconsider its position on the implementation of the policy because of the negative effect it would have on the economy and consumers.
According to the General Manager, SIFAX Shipping Company Limited, a subsidiary of SIFAX Group, Henry Ajoh, the government has not adequately engaged stakeholders in both the maritime and aviation industries before coming up with the policy.
The general manager argued that it would adversely affect the country’s economy as the extra cost that the importers would be made to bear will ultimately be transferred to the consumers, who would be forced to pay more. He said: “The implementation of the cargo palletisation policy will lead to an increase in the cost of shipment and importation charges. These extra charges will be passed to the end users, who buy the imported goods.
Ajoh explained that manufacturers, who also need to pay more for imported raw materials as a result of the policy, would pass the buck to consumers.
He said that the palletisation policy would not address the challenge of faster cargo clearing adequately as all imported cargoes, whether palleterised or not, would still be physically examined by the customs. He said: “The only way out is to provide modern cargo scanners at the nation’s seaports.
The issue of 100 per cent physical cargo examination is outdated and should be jettisoned by the government.
“We should take advantage of technology to drive the policy of ease of business in the maritime sector. Providing scanners is the right way to go and not compelling importers to palletise their goods. So, I am appealing to the Federal Government to reconsider their stance on the issue and also engage more with various stakeholders in order to find a position.”
Already, the company’s Group Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, had advocated the concession of scanning services at the ports to private investors. He explained that concession of scanning services would help improve the efficient service delivery of NCS, protect against importation of arms and other contraband goods, generate more revenue for the government and keep the country safe.
Also, the President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, pointed out that the mandatory enforcement of palletised goods in containers would reduce the normal shipment into containers and increase the number of containers for each shipment due to the space the pallet would occupy.
He added the process would also attract the presence of the plant quarantine officers in the port to regulate the implementation of the International Plant Protection Convention, adding that this would lead to additional cost to importers and clearing agents.
Amiwero advised that the government should focus on getting the scanners to function in order to limit physical examination and the use of pallets, which had been restricted in other climes to reduce the carriage of invasive plants and insects into the country. Amiwero advised that certain goods, which cannot be arranged in pallets, such as vehicles and equipment as well as fragile materials and homogeneous goods such as rice and chemicals, should be exempted from the policy.
Despite the opposition, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, said in Lagos that importers and others antagonising the policy must obey the cargo palletisation policy of the Federal Government or face sanction.
He warned that the government would not go back on the policy, saying that stakeholders in the export and import trade value chains should be acquainted with the export and import guidelines to avoid sanction.
The Nigeria Customs Service said in May 2017 that the delay in processing exports and imports accounted for the low position of Nigeria on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings, adding that there were complaints about export processes averaging between two and three weeks in Nigeria, compared to only four days in Kenya and other African countries.
The spokesman for the NCS, Mr. Joseph Attah, said another reason for the delay at the ports during the import process was the haphazard manner in which goods were packed in containers.
He said: “Different types of goods are just dumped in the container and imported into Nigeria, slowing the pace of physical examination and making it impossible for modern equipment to be used to examine containers.
“To solve that problem, shipping lines are now required to ensure that imports into Nigeria are well arranged in pallets.
Shipping lines, which failed to palletise cargo, will be sanctioned and may be asked to take back onboard the non-palletised cargo.”
There is need for the government to acquire modern scanning equipment to boost ease of doing business in all the seaports.
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