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Transport infrastructure upgrade crucial to enjoy AfCFTA benefits

Experts in Nigeria’s transport space have recommended the need for an enhanced transport infrastructure, in order to drive the successful and effective implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).

This was discussed at the first annual conference of the Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN), held in Lagos recently, themed ‘Barge operation as a panacea for Port congestion: benefits for the nation under the Africa Continental Free Trade agreement Area (AfCFTA)’.

Discussions at the conference focused on how best the AfCFTA can be optimised for economic gains using enhanced transport infrastructure and improved port operations.

Read Also: FG wants Delta to key into AfCFTA

Rotimi Amaechi, minister of Transportation, in his remarks said that the trade agreement provides an opportunity to boost trade and economic performance in Nigeria however it requires enhanced and effective infrastructure to make the much needed impact.

Amaechi represented by Magdalene Ajani, permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation added that this has created the need to reposition critical sectors like the maritime sectors to take advantage of the available opportunities and perform effectively.

“The maritime sector has a huge role to play in the transfer of goods and services hence it needs to be fully revitalized, this has made the development of the inland waterways a priority initiative as it will improve inland trade, transport connectivity, increase maritime activities with neighboring countries,” he said.

He added that barge operations serve as efficient alternative means of transport to move cargoes to designated points however barge operations have not been properly regulated; hence the government has taken interest in ensuring that the sector is properly regulated.

Amaechi acknowledged that congestion at the Lagos port has defied the various efforts and strategies put in place by the government to resolve the inherent challenges, regardless he reiterated that the federal government remains committed to ensuring the successful implementation of the trade agreement in Nigeria.

“The federal ministry of transportation has embarked on an all-inclusive and all-encompassing national maritime transport policy that will stand the test of time and foster a robust maritime industry that will fast-track sustainable social economic development of the country,” he said.

In his address, Edeme Kelikume, President, BOAN, said that members of the association are already positioned to aid the implementation of the trade agreement as they already convey about 1,000,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers and about 500,000 metric tonnes of general cargo annually.

He added that they have the capacity to double this figure if provided with immense support and an enabling environment. Highlighting some challenges, he said that the challenges range from regulation, to navigation, infrastructural deficit and poor human capacity which is just a few.

“Despite the challenges, the future looks very bright for the industry to rise up to the occasion of contributing to the revamping of our economy by improving the maritime sector and boosting revenue earning especially in the export sector, as the nation prepares to take full advantage of the AfCFTA,” he said

Speaking about enhanced infrastructure during the panel session titled infrastructural and operational enhancement to boost national export drive to harness AfCFTA opportunities, Aliyu Bello, Area comptroller general, Apapa customs service said there is need to accelerate the adoption of technology and digitalization particularly in port operations to ease up and quicken necessary processes.

“For example, electronic seals can be provided to avoid too much protocol and reduce bottlenecks when exporting cargos,” he said.

Bello added that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is expanding its marine command to aid the ongoing development and implementation of the trade agreement, he also revealed that the agency is making efforts to become fully electronic with its processes and services by December 2021.

Tonye Harry, deputy president general, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) said the implementation of the trade agreement has necessitated the need for collaborations between organizations, individuals, regulatory agencies to ensure seamless and hitch free operations.

“Collaborations are very important and will yield more results than individual efforts, it will also boost the effectiveness of trade activities,” he said.

Dakio Horsfall, area manager, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Lokoja said plans are underway to develop the infrastructure of the waterways for improved services, he added that engagements and discussions are ongoing with the North China Construction group which will yield expected results.

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