By Okey Ibeke
Maritime operators, especially importers and exporters, have often accused the Nigeria Customs Service of paying more attention to revenue collection than trade facilitation. They allege that Customs neglects this fundamental responsibility as they strive to meet their annual revenue targets.
In time past, the above allegation could hardly be totally denied. But in the past few years, four years to be precise, things have really changed. Customs Service, under the present dispensation of Comptroller-General Dikko Abdullahi Inde, has made progressive efforts to facilitate trade while collecting the maximum collectible revenue for government.
Trade facilitation aims at making trade across borders faster, simpler and cheaper while ensuring its safety and security. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) defines trade facilitation thus: “Simplification and harmonization of international trade procedures. Trade procedures include the activities, practices, and formalities involved in collecting, presenting, communicating and processing data and other information required for the movement of goods in international trade.”
By implication, it is not only the physical movement of goods that is important in the supply chain but also the associated information that flows from the relevant governmental agencies and the private sector.
As part of the efforts of the present Customs administration towards facilitating trade, the Service has come up with different initiatives such as the Single Window project, the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), IT-based services and computerization of its operations etc.
Only recently, the Customs Service formally launched its brainchild, the Nigeria Trade Hub (NTH) and the Nigeria Import, Export and Transit Process Manual. The portal, developed with the cooperation of other government regulatory agencies and some private sector players, seeks to provide invaluable guide and reliable reference tools to the global trading community that wish to do business in or with Nigeria.
At the launching ceremony in Abuja, the CGC acknowledged that all over the world, Customs administrations are coming under intense pressure to facilitate legitimate cross-border trade.
“For a long time, the trading community has yearned for information to promote transparency in the conduct of business. With the development of this hub, information is now placed at their disposal in a fast, convenient and cost-effective manner. I hope this development will help us achieve a new regime of trade facilitation in a corrupt free environment,” Dikko noted.
He expressed optimism that the portal will help to improve Nigeria’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing business Index, stating: “We now have a world class portal which we are putting up at the disposal of the global trading community especially those doing business with Nigeria.”
According to the CGC, the portal boasts of the following features: classification tool, currency converter, tax simulator, web link to other government agencies, 24/7 online accessibility, availability on mobile apps and interactive and intuitive features.
He said the Single Window held many benefits for Nigeria such as increased level of service efficiency, transparent and predictable processes, elimination of bureaucratic bottlenecks and ultimately, increased revenue and economic growth.
Also speaking at the event, the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, noted that all over the world, many emerging economies are reforming their investment climates by addressing the regulatory bottlenecks which increase operational costs for business. “Nigeria is similarly making progress in harmonizing domestic business regulations and rationalizing operations at various government institutions to increase efficiency,” she said.
The minister noted that the Nigeria Trade Single Window was a useful step towards improving trade facilitation in the nation’s economy.
“This initiative will simplify, harmonize and standardize procedures for cross- border transactions in Nigeria. As a result, it will further reduce delays associated with cross-border trade and enable us attain our goal of 48-hour cargo clearance time at the ports”.
Okonjo-Iweala said the Nigeria Single Trade Window provides for importers and exporters, an integrated environment where appropriate regulatory information may be obtained, adding that “the system would greatly facilitate commerce across our borders and reduce costs for businesses operating in Nigeria.”
While commending Customs, the various agencies and the private sector stakeholders who collaborated on the project, she expressed confidence that the framework will contribute towards improving the nation’s investment climate and support its transformation as an emerging market economy.
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr.Olusegun Aganga, who also spoke at the occasion, described the Nigeria Customs as a trade facilitator.
“In playing its own fundamental role as trade facilitator, the Nigeria Customs Service has embarked on the introduction of the Single Window. The application of the Single Window aims principally to modernize and simplify processes and procedures of international trade (imports and exports) in Nigeria. An efficient application will help in creating a competitive and enabling environment for cross-border trade in terms of reducing processing times and costs and simplifying procedures. It ensures transparency and creates a level-playing field, thereby encouraging trade compliance,” he said.
“I have seen the single Window in operation and am proud that to boldly declare that it will provide the required solution to the problems and challenges experienced by players in the past. Trade facilitation is all about simplicity, predictability and sustainability of import/export regimes, regulations and procedures”.
Aganga said the system provides the platform for reliable data collection, collation, retrieval and dissemination and will improve collaboration amongst the different operators, public and private, to exchange data electronically as well as reduce trade related costs through on-line processing of information while shortening processing times.
The present manual is rich enough to educate and provide clear guidance not only on the operations of the Single Window, but more importantly, it serves as a reference material to national and international players trading with Nigeria and those contemplating to do so in the near future”.
He commended the Customs and its leadership for the foresight and the resources committed to the actualization of the platform which he said will sanitize Nigeria’s international trade environment and bring it at par with the most efficient economies in the world.
Speaking for the private sector, Chief Kola Jamodu, President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), stressed that in this increasing globalized world, the primary role of customs is trade facilitation across the borders. The introduction of a Nigeria Trade Single Window by customs at this stage, he said, is a welcome development.
“From all accounts, the aspiration of the government and the private sector is the attainment of 48-hour cargo clearing, which at present is about five days, having come down from the abysmal 40 days obtainable three to four years ago. This impressive reduction in the long chain of regulatory/security agencies at the port from about nineteen (19) to seven (7) was to prepare the ports for Single Window Clearing System. This will no doubt significantly reduce both direct and indirect costs of clearing cargoes in the country. The outcome would further contribute towards improving the competitiveness of locally-produced goods either for domestic consumption or for export,” he said.
Jamodu stated that MAN as a key stakeholder in the trans-border business had been a consistent voice in cooperating with the Nigeria Customs Service for the introduction of the Single Window Clearance System.
However, for the scheme to work as expected and achieve the desired purpose, the MAN President said the following issues should be taken into consideration:
-Government should immediately appoint customs, the lead agency for the implementation of the Single Window roadmap.
-Necessary back up/safety nets should be put in place to prevent system collapse during the implementation process.
-Creation of a transparent work-flow to ensure that manufacturers/port users enjoy the true value of this transformation system; and
-Establishment of a functional regulatory body to oversee the activities of shipping agencies and terminal operators.
The NTH is an interactive portal, designed to assist the importer or exporter, with obtaining correct and timely information.
NTH provides necessary information about all the Government Agencies required to liaise with to obtain the necessary import permits and certificates that are needed to import or export product into or out of Nigeria.
Based on the product and transaction type selected, the portal will provide details including the regulatory stakeholders of that particular product and transaction type, documents required, the cost of administering those documents, duties and tax payable, the number of processing days and any controls/restrictions that might apply. The NTH is seamlessly linked to the Nigeria National Single Window ensuring that once the decision is made to go ahead with the import or export transaction all selected details captured during the search are transferred to the Nigeria National Single Window, saving the time and cost of rekeying all information.
This is in the spirit of “Single Submission of Data” as per UN/CEFACT’s Recommendation 33 on Single Window.
The Features of the NTH Are:
*Interactive and intuitive.
*Customs procedure code search.
*Documents, payments, tax simulator.
*Duty and Payment Calculator.
Okey Ibeke is the Publisher of Business &Maritime West Africa