With a projected yearly intra-trade increase of N35 billion (55 per cent above the baseline) through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA) by 2022, Nigeria needs to urgently upgrade its seaports and transport infrastructure to enable stakeholders optimise their advantage.
This call was made in Lagos over the weekend by the Chairman, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Tsanni Abubakar, during the Conference on Maximising Benefits of Intra-African Trade Under AfCFTA Regime, organised by The Journal.
The urgency was heightened by the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, who explained that imports would decrease by $10 billion per year, while agricultural and industrial export increase by $4 billion and $21 billion respectively above the baseline by 2022.
Bello, who was represented at the forum by the NSC Operations Officer, Consumer Affairs, James Chabulatuda, noted that Africa’s small and medium enterprises would grow by 80 per cent on the back of regional markets, and expand beyond the continent.
According to him, the AfCTFA objectives include expansion of intra-African trade through enhanced harmonisation and coordination, improved competition at enterprise level to support economic transformation, and the exploitation of economic of scale to dominate the continental market.
For the maritime sector to gain from the expected economic growth and competition, even for a regional trans-shipment hub, Tsanni stressed the need for upgrade of infrastructure, including the seaports, roads and rail, to enable importers, exporters, transporters and freight forwarders optimise their advantage in the pact.
Along that conviction, he disclosed that the CRFFN and NSC were already in talks towards ensuring that Nigerian freight forwarders could also practice in other African countries.
He regretted that the over-liberalisation of the Nigerian business environment gave even non-Africans an unfettered access to cargo clearing from customs while Nigerians have no such privilege abroad.
“This contradicts the principles of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which seek, among others, to promote international trade by reducing or eliminating trade barriers and sustaining reciprocal advantages among trading countries.
Therefore, “we shall pursue and ensure that the Nigerian freight forwarder is not unduly prevented by their peers in other countries by promoting their unfettered access to businesses outside the shores of Nigeria within the ambits of AfCFTA.”
More so, he warned local truck owners that with the expected increase in free movement of trucks across borders, they would either upgrade their current rickety trucks and tankers or lose the market to foreigners. He added: “Three good vehicles on a fleet will do better than 10 rickety and inefficient vehicles that put lives in danger, delay consignments on transit and worsen the perennial gridlock.
“I advise owners of unserviceable vehicles coming to our ports and land borders to consider forming partnerships to dispose the many bad vehicles for fewer, newer and better ones.
“Do not expect patronage of your rickety vehicles just because you are a Nigerian. Owners of consignments who want their goods to arrive warehouses in good time may very likely not look at the nationality of truck ownership.”