• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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BusinessDay

Customs to launch 24-hr operations to boost trade

…FG to unveil Marine and Blue Economy National Policy

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is arranging for seaports to operate 24 hours, aiming to remove barriers hindering export and import trade in Africa’s most populous nation.

By operating round the clock, the ports can eliminate delays and costs associated with the non-clearing of cargo on weekends and public holidays.

Speaking in Lagos on Thursday at the BusinessDay Maritime Conference themed, ‘Nigeria Maritime: Unlocking Potential, Overcoming Challenges,’ Mohammed Bello-Koko, managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), said the management of Nigeria Customs has agreed to have its officers work on a shift basis to actualise 24-hour port operations and ensure cargo owners take delivery of their consignments without delays.

According to Bello-Koko, the Comptroller-General of Customs has committed to work with the NPA to ensure that all those non-tariff barriers to trade that come with Customs procedures are removed.

He said the NPA is also working to improve port lighting and security to remove physical barriers that discourage nighttime operations for port users and service providers.

“The Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy has also opened discussions with terminal operators to see to the procurement of new scanners for cargo examination at ports while Customs pays them back through the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS),” he said.

Bello-Koko said that Nigeria needs to rehabilitate and expand the berths of Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports to receive bigger vessels for economies of scale for cargo owners.

Pointing to the presence of multiple government agencies as one of the challenges, Bello-Koko said that government agencies need to streamline their units to eliminate and reduce costs and delays for cargo owners.

On Nigeria’s ambitious plans to elevate the maritime sector to global standards, Adegboyega Oyetola, minister of Marine and Blue Economy, said the Federal Government is committed to developing a dynamic national policy framework for the Marine and Blue Economy, which would be launched by the end of 2024.

Highlighting the sector’s critical role in economic diversification and sustainable development, Oyetola said there are initiatives to propel Nigeria into the top ranks of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC).

He said the Ministry had prioritised strategic reforms that would enhance operational efficiency and attract investments, including implementing the National Single Window and Port Community System to automate port processes.

“These measures are geared towards improving Nigeria’s ease of doing business ranking and fostering a conducive environment for trade and investment. The importance of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in advancing port modernisation, dredging ports, and deploying cutting-edge maritime technologies cannot be over-emphasised,” the minister said.

Laurence Smith, chief operating officer of Lekki Port LFTZ Enterprise Limited, said Nigeria’s import-export trend has remained imbalanced and has not changed in the last 12 years.

He said Nigeria has been recording export volume of about 1.5 million to 1.8 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) over the last 12 years, which is very low compared to the UK which is recording exports of about 20 million TEUs with just 60 million people.

According to him, Africa’s most populous nation is still unable to leverage the potential of its human capital to develop its export trade, which if actualised would create jobs, revenue, and wealth for the citizens.

“We have been advocating for a strong economy and strong export business,” Smith said.

“Nigeria has been struggling to diversify its economy by promoting export-oriented industries including manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and this has limited the ability of the country to generate revenue from export,” he said.

Earlier in his keynote speech, Aminu Umar, president of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, urged the federal government to look into the challenges limiting the growth of Nigeria’s blue economy.

He said the Dangote Refinery has completely changed the dynamics of Nigeria’s shipment as cargo now originates from Nigeria to other countries, unlike when only imported cargo came into the country.

“Nigerian cargoes are now delivered to other African countries, including Senegal. Now, we are seeing cargo delivered outside Nigeria. We have ships outside Nigeria delivering to Ghana, Guinea Republic, and Senegal,” Umar said.

He said Nigeria has the potential and opportunities needed to become a major exporter of fertilisers, gas, and food.

“The potential is in the dry cargo transportation which is to say fertiliser is coming out of Nigeria. Also, we have agricultural produce that is coming out of Nigeria which is taken by the container liners,” he added.

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