BusinessDay
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Nigeria’s drag on US fish export ban questions FG’s diversification plan

Nigeria’s continuous failure to provide the United States with its Self Reporting Tool (SRT) requirement for smoked catfish (silurifomes) in three years questions the Federal Government’s diversification plan.

Since 2017 Nigerian government’s tardiness in providing the STR document forced the US to place a ban on catfish export from Nigeria in March 2018.

Over three years, the ban has shrunk market access for fish farmers, slowed investments into the industry, and threatened the government export drive targets at a time the country is in crucial need of FX, BusinessDay learnt.

“Our diversification focus is just talk and no action. Farmers cannot export smoked catfish to the US and Canada since 2018 because of government failure and yet nothing has been done to address the issue,” said Rotimi Oloye, president, Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN) said from his Ibadan farm in a telephone response to BusinessDay questions.

“The ban is killing Nigeria’s fish industry and reducing our non-oil earnings especially at a time the country is in crucial need of FX,” Oloye said.

He blamed the government for not taking prompt action in addressing the issue and ensuring that the ban is lifted within the shortest possible time.

He added that lots of farmers who have taken loans and invested in processing to tap opportunities in the export market are now finding it extremely difficult to meet up with their loan obligations owing to the ban.

From time, the agricultural sector has been touted as the most viable contingency plan for economic diversification from oil; however, the sector has failed to achieve that feat.

Diversifying Africa’s largest economy away from oil would require paying more attention to establishing agriculture, which constitutes the bulk of the country’s non-oil exports, and value-addition, experts say.

“The structures to drive growth and diversify the economy through agriculture are lacking. If we are truly serious about our non-oil, the government will ensure that every encumbrance to international trade is resolved quickly,” said Kola Adebayo, professor at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

“The fisheries subsector in Nigeria has been under-supported in the government food agenda. The saving grace for the industry has been the large local market that exists,” Adebayo said.

In 2017, The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) put the value of the Nigerian aquaculture industry at $848million (N398.6billion).

Currently, Nigeria exports about 100 metric tons of catfish yearly to the US, Canada, and Europe out of its 316,727MT annual aquaculture production,” the Nigeria Catfish Association says.

The association estimates the annual loss of $5million to the industry since the ban.

“It has been really difficult for us catfish farmers since the ban. Our profit margins have slowed because we generate most from export,” said Tijani Yusuf, a catfish farmer in Ibadan.

“Now we just focus on the local market as we can no longer export to the US and Canada,” Yusuf said.

He urged the government to provide adequate information on the SRT document quickly to ensure the ban is lifted by the US, Canada, and others.

According to the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA), the SRT is a prerequisite for trade and it is the process of determining whether a country’s food safety inspection system is equivalent to that applied domestically in the US.

Nigeria is yet to fully provide these answers after submitting the SRT document for the second time, the US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says.

“Nigeria did not fully address information requested in the Self Reporting Tool. The SRT is a questionnaire that FSIS uses to help assess whether a country’s food safety inspection system is equivalent,” said Veronika Pfaeffle, public affairs specialist, FSIS said in an email response to questions.

“However, in December 2020, the Nigerian government indicated that they would like to continue to pursue equivalence to be able to export Siluriformes fish and fish products to the U.S. and submitted additional information requested in the SRT for FSIS review,” Pfaeffle said.

She noted that the FSIS will continue to work with Nigeria to equivalence for dried catfish products, saying until the equivalence is granted, the country will not be eligible to export the product to the US.

“FSIS continues to work with Nigeria to pursue equivalence for Siluriformes products. Until equivalence is granted, Nigeria will not be eligible to export these products to the U.S,” she said.

Growth in the fishing sub-sector shrunk from 3.3percent in 2019 to 0.26percent in 2020. On a quarter-on-quarter basis, it also shrunk from -2.07 percent in the third quarter of 2020 to -3.6percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, data from NBS shows.

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