Facilitating Trade with National Single Window


Francis Ugwoke writes on current moves by the transport ministry to join over 70countries in implementing the National Single Window at the nation’s ports to facilitate trade

For Nigeria, the world of automation is beginning to give rise to the National Single Window. This is as the agencies of government in the Transport sector embark on automation projects that are targeted at easing operations at the ports. With what appears like songs of automation by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council,NSC, as the ports economic regulator, every stakeholder is making frantic efforts to key into the port community system.

This is the first leg of preparation for the National Single Window, NSW that is being spearheaded by the Transport Minister, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, for the country. Fewweeks ago, the Executive Secretary of the NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello, hadexplained that what is on board now is the aggregation of all theautomation that will lead to a NSW for the country. All the agencies ofgovernment under the Transport Ministry, including, the Nigerian PortsAuthority, NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and
Safety Agency, NIMASA and the NSC have embraced automation as a global trend in trade facilitation.

NSW as a Global Project

National Single Windowis advancement in trade facilitation efforts at the nation’s ports. It is in
keeping with the demands of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, World CustomsOrganisation (WCO), among others in the efforts to make trade easier for
nations. Under the singlewindow, there will be a single portal for all to access, which makes cargoclearance simple. NSW has been implemented by many advanced nations. Ghana and Republic of Benin have also implementedNSW. In Ghana for instance, the single window project is managed by the BlueWest Consulting led by Ms. Valentina Mintah. She has been in the forefront fornational single window for all the countries in ECOWAS.

InNigeria, there is an inter-ministerial coordination on national single window which includes the Ministry of Transport and Finance Ministry. However, theMinistry of Transport was given the approval to initiate and drive the project.NSW is a project of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe(UNECE). It was developed in 2005 as part of the moves to “simplify,harmonise and standardise international trade procedures”, as wellas associated information on trade. So far, over 70countries have implemented the project because of its capacity to improvetrade efficiency and competitiveness among trading nations.

Benefits of NSW

The world is advancing towards a paperless society in such a way that even clearance of goods is moving towards a simple touch of the button instead of the hassles thatNigerians go through in the ports before their goods are released. A visit to advanced countries has always shown how backward Nigeria has remained. InSingapore, Sri-Lanka, UK ports, US, among others, clearance of goods does not require physical presence at the ports. Everything is automated in such away that personnel you find at the ports are simply security staff.

Everythingis done online. Here in Nigeria, it is a different ball game as even officials of government agencies, such as the Customs may not be able to do without the presence of customs brokers who would monitor their entries from table to table and also settle appropriately before their goods are released. The truth is also that there is hardly any importer in Nigeria that would not like to cheat on government, one of the reasons why the personnel of the Customs would extort them.

Automation through the NSW would check this trend, a development that would be a big task for such innovation to work. Just recently, freight forwarders had frowned at the NSW under the Customs Service, apparently because of corruption. The former President of National Association of GovernmentApproved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, Dr. Eugene Nweke had written to thePresidency and the Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi that the NSW project should not be under the Customs Service.

In areport, the Economic Development and Globalization Division(EDGD) of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia(ESCWA) has identified the benefits of NSW, adding that theidea is to “provide a platform and processes for a paperless (electronic)exchange of trade information between participants in the trade process,largely accomplished through a single electronic lodgment”. ESCWA explainsfurther that a single window is “made up from an organic mixture of thecollaborative efforts of all of the parties involved in a nation’sinternational trade activities. It uses the latest ICT techniques;international data and messaging standards together with simplified, harmonisedand remodeled information systems for data exchange, in order to replacetraditional paper-based information”. According to the report, the idea is fora single submission for customs brokers clearing goods. It brings all partiestogether in a
single platform so that the customs broker clears his consignment through one source of information feed.

Nigeria and ECOWAS Efforts on NSW

Apparently because of its benefits, Nigeria and other African countries are making efforts to have anational single window. At a recent African Ports Evolution (APE)Conference and Exhibition held in Ghana, NSW dominated discussion byparticipants drawn from other West and Central African region. During the event, the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi disclosed that hisMinistry would resume discussion with the NigeriaCustoms Service (NCS) on the need to deploy the National SingleWindow which the Service had suspended some years ago. Amaechi said this was part of the efforts of the Ministry to facilitate trade.

The ministry and the Customs had disagreed on who should implement the project that was abandoned by the West Blue Consulting during thepast administration over bureaucratic bottlenecks, undisclosed differences with government officials, including the Customs. In fact, in July, Amaechi hadlashed at the Customs for frustrating the NSW project.
Amaechi hadsaid: “The ComptrollerGeneral of Customs has to agree and the Customs needs to be connected to theNSW to make our ports more effective. All we are doing now is manual; it willnot last for long. Very soon Nigerians will protest against the seaports.People are already importing through Benin republic. Everyone has a singlewindow. Niger which used to import things through Nigeria is doing so throughanother country. This is because we are charging both official and unofficialcharges. Goods in Nigeria are too expensive.”

At the Ghana conference,participants drawn from Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, BeninRepublic, South Africa, Togo, had opted for the introduction of NSW. TheManaging Director of Ghana’s Shippers’ Authority, Dr. Magnus Addico, hadexpressed concern over the stagnation of the region in trade and maritimegrowth as a result of inconsistencies in policies, apparently in reference tothe non-implementation of NSW and other recommendations at the regional level.This was made clear by the Director General, Port Authority of Cotonou, BeninRepublic, Madame Amelie Amoussou Kpeto, who said his country has set up NSW. Here called that the national single window had been recommended for all in theregion, yet some countries were yet to implement it, in apparent referenceto Nigeria. While supporting NSW, the Transit Manager, GCNet, Ghana, Mr. JimmyAllotey was said to have calledfor collaboration among states. He howeverrecommended a separate single window network for states within common standard.

The Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NigerianShippers’ Council (NSC), Barr. Hassan Bello, had during the occasion while supporting NSW said that one of the reasons why there is problem with Niger on transit cargo in Nigeria was because the Customs wants to escort goods being delivered to the country on truck.

Bello said with advanced information system, there is no need for this, adding that this issue can be addressed by the use of technology. He said: “The deployment of the appropriate technology will solve a lot of these problems. This is where the National Single Window also comes in”. Bello said the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi has made every agency to realise that the National Single Window has become the ultimate in trade facilitation. He said that following this, these agencies, have got substantial projects that could drive the national single window. He said NPA, NIMASA and his council all have projects which could be components of the single window.

Bello also disclosed that theMinistry of Transportation was in the peak of driving the single window conceptso as to bring the transparency in the transaction at the port. He explained tothis writer that the idea of the national single window was to make sure thatthe nation’s ports were more efficient and achieve clearance of cargo within 48hours and for the nation’s ports to operate just like airport, 24/7.Besides, he said the nation needs the national single window to block revenueleakages. He said with integration of systems, the agencies of government wouldprovide the national single window.

“I am sure NPA will provide substantialinput to Nigerian national single window, As a matter of fact, NPA has portcommunity system which contains a lot of platforms. Shippers Council willcontribute same thing, NIMASA will also contribute same thing”, Bello said. Onwhether the economic recession would not affect the project, the NSC CEOdescribed the recession as a temporal thing which would not lastlong. “As a matter of fact the recession is lifting now. Wehave more ships coming than last month, the worst is over.There are indications and we have seen how cargo is flowing through Nigerianports. It is not like it was before. So recession is a temporal thing. We havelearnt lessons from that and I am sure there would be economic boom forNigeria and the port. Now, the port must restrategise to make sure that theports are efficient and able to attract cargo”, he said.

– Ugwoke,a journalist, wrote from Apapa