By John Iwori
The federal government has tasked African countries on the need to develop global reach in their trade as a means of improving their economies.
It specifically called on the West and Central African sub-region to rise up and take their share of the global market by developing a global reach in trade and enterprises in their economies.
In order to accomplish this, the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who spoke on behalf of the federal government at the recent sub-regional workshop on Transport Cost and Regional Connectivity of African Countries in Abuja, noted that this requires connectivity among the countries.
The minister added that this will include a multimodal, integrated and sustainable transport system in order to foster quality connectivity within the West and Central African sub-region and indeed the rest of Africa.
He noted that the ports alone were not enough to connect to the markets, adding that other modes, including road, rail and air transport, inland waterways and inland ports were essential since trade logistics now involves door-to-door or factory to warehouse movement of goods in international trade transactions.
Sirika called for the adoption of a holistic approach towards addressing the challenges of transport costs and connectivity.
He explained that such approach must take into consideration important issues as cost effectiveness of shipping services, competitiveness and survival of national and regional operators, efficiency of seaports, availability of coastal shipping services, protection of shippers’ interest and partnership with service providers.
He said that in Nigeria, an enabling environment for public private partnership (PPP) is being created by designing new policies, legislation and institutional framework that would support the envisaged improvement on trade.
According to him, President Muhammadu Buhari is interested in addressing the lingering challenges in trade and transport sectors of the nation’s economy. This is the main policy thrust of the administration. It is desirous to evolve a multimodal, integrated and sustainable transport system with greater emphasis on rail and inland waterways transportation in order to foster quality of connectivity within the system.
While stating that the maritime transport has remained an indispensable tool for international trade because of its mode, operation and character, the minister stated that opportunities, problems and policy issues associated with it transcend national boundaries and can best be handled in an integrated regional and international level.
The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, in his remarks, said the challenge of poor transport connectivity has been identified as a major obstacle to the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries realising their potential in both regional and global trade.
His words: “With the advent of global supply chains, a new premium is being placed on being able to move goods from A to B rapidly, reliably, and cheaply. Being able to connect to what has been referred to as the “physical internet” is fast being a key determinant of a country’s competitiveness”.
While noting that transportation networks represent the economic arteries of countries and regions, he said the network of transport routes and facilities all over the world can be likened to an internet.
“As observed by experts, for those able to connect, the physical internet brings access to vast new markets; but for those whose links to the global logistics web are weak, the costs of exclusion are large and growing. Whether a cause or consequence, no country has grown successfully without a large expansion of its trade”, he said.
He pointed out that most countries in the sub-region, including Nigeria, do not own fleets, adding that with this, the sub-region was at the mercy of foreign shipping companies.
To improve the connectivity and lower the cost of transport, he called on African countries to look very seriously at the areas of ship building and vessels ownership in order to increase the number of vessels plying their waters with a view to encouraging international trade.
“We pay dearly for poor connectivity by the fact that while in developed economies freight as a percentage of the value of imports is only about 3 percent, in developing economies it is about 10 per cent. While for Africa, the figure is estimated at a mind bogging value of between 20 per cent – 35 percent, especially for land locked countries,” he said.