President Goodluck Jonathan
By John Iwori
President Goodluck Jonathan has called on world customs administrations to guard against resistance to change so that the purpose for which they were established could be achieved.
He said given the role of customs administrations in trade facilitation, they have always remained critical in the ability of governments to maximise the benefits from reforms, including enhancing and deepening trade integration between members of any regional trading arrangement.
He however pointed out that there was the possibility that customs administrations may constitute an obstacle to the success of trade policy reforms, if there was resistance to the necessary modernisation that should result from changes in the policies and priorities of governments.
Jonathan stated this in an address he presented at the 119th/120th Sessions of the Customs Cooperation Council, which also marked the Diamond Jubilee anniversary celebration of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) in Brussels, Belgium.
He argued that the real challenge remains the capacity of Customs to review its own policies, strategise and adapt to the new thrust in government policy, particularly through the redeployment of resources to fulfil the new emerging functions.
According Jonathan who said he was a former Customs Officer, these include such areas as strengthening the valuation system, reduction in physical inspections, risk profiling and greater reliance on post-clearance audits.
He identified others as rules of origin, the strengthening of monitoring and supervision to ameliorate the fraudulent use of suppressive regimes, including bonded transit and warehousing.
He said both the success of trade policy reforms and customs administration depend on the proper synchronisation of the two processes through the re-evaluation of the various objectives of the Customs service, and a redefinition of its functions, organisation, and methods of operation.
He contended that the expansion in the traditional role of Customs, as an enforcement agency, to that of trade facilitation in the 21st Century, has led to the emergence of Customs as a prominent business partner to industry players.
His words: “Customs administrations must therefore see themselves in the context of the twin roles of trade facilitator and guardian of the community. As trade facilitator, they should be committed to building strategic partnerships with the business sector, including helping to maintain the competitive edge of the local industry. I do believe that the benefits of greater efficiency, enhanced competitiveness and higher productivity in the new global economic environment would be better achieved if the Customs service is responsive to the needs of industry in the areas of simplification of procedures; efficient processing of shipments; and the transparent use of rules and regulations”.
He said Nigeria has introduced the single window concept; reduced the number of agencies operating at the ports; introduced the one-stop-check procedure in customs clearance; established Inland Container Depots; and strengthened other sister agencies like the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC).
According to him, all these measures are geared towards ensuring that the operational efficiency of Customs is enhanced, in order to maintain a high degree of compliance whilst facilitating the smooth movement of goods and persons, and reducing possible disruption in legitimate trade.
On legislation, he pointed out the ongoing review of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) Cap 45 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, along with other customs and excise notices, decrees, and guidelines.
The Law, he added, would be duly aligned with the WTO Customs Valuation Agreement with a view to strengthening the implementation of customs formalities and clearance procedures.
The President also said efforts are being made to bring Nigeria’s customs law in line with international best practices such as the Revised Kyoto Convention, implementation of the border provisions of the WTO TRIPS Agreement, and the WCO SAFE framework on standards.
“The new legislation will also strengthen the penalty structure to ensure an adequate level of deterrence. Nigeria is committed to the ongoing Doha Round negotiations on Trade Facilitation, with priority attached to the sections dealing with substantive disciplines, special and differential treatment, as well as technical assistance and capacity building.
“A National Trade Facilitation Committee has been established to coordinate and provide technical backstopping to our Geneva-based negotiators. With respect to ICT application, the main objective is to move away from the current labour intensive operating method to electronic and automation systems, using the latest technologies that would promote the adoption of the appropriate tools for facilitation and compliance purposes. My Government has provided the enablement for full automation of Customs processes, so as to ensure the simplification of procedures, speedy documentation, and the promotion of transactional transparency”, he said.