By Eromosele Abiodun
The recent hike in the import duties of vehicles and rice as well as the introduction of a fish quota system by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan are taking a toll on activities at the nation’s ports, THISDAY investigation has revealed.
Also, the restriction of 41 items from accessing the official foreign exchange window by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is said to have scaled down activities at the nation’s sea ports.
Indications that Nigeria was on a journey to recession came early this year when the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced that the country recorded a decline of N793.5bn in the first quarter merchandise trade to close at N2.72trillion from N3.51trillion in the fourth quarter of 2015, the first time in the last seven years.
The bureau had attributed the decline in the first quarter activity to a sharp drop in both import and export trade.
Recent data from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) on activities at the ports showed that 341 vessels entered Nigeria in September 2016, the lowest in nine months and a fall from 400 recorded in August 2016.
According to the NPA, cargo throughput dropped from 6.3 million metric tonnes in January this year to 5.6 million in September, which is also the lowest in the year.
The statistics also showed that a total of 3,347 ocean-going vessels have called Nigeria so far this year, estimated at about 100,152,274 metric tons. The breakdown showed that the Lagos Port Complex Apapa received 318 vessels in the third quarter as against 301 in the second quarter. Tin Can Island Ports received 406 vessels in third quarter, against 368 in the last quarter; Rivers Ports, 80 ships against 84 in the previous quarter; Onne received 152 vessels against 163; Calabar Port, 51 against 52; while Delta Port received 132 against 109.
Consequently, the industry has lost no fewer than 5,000 jobs and over N30billion revenue in the space of one year.
Industry experts who spoke to THISDAY blamed the drop in cargo volume and huge loss of revenue by port and terminal operators on the ’’anti-trade policies of the federal government.’’
These policies, they stated, have also made the country unattractive to investors.
The National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero said the current hike in import duty on vehicles in 2014/2015 from 10 per cent to 35 per cent with an additional surcharge of 35 per cent, bringing the total tariff to 70 per cent, has negatively impacted operations at the port and led to massive revenue and job loss.
He said the arbitrary import duty hike led to the diversion of vessels carrying vehicles to the ports of neighbouring West African, thereby boosting operations in those ports – especially the Port of Cotonou – at the expense of Nigerian ports.
The development, he added, has also negatively affected the operations of dockworkers, licensed Customs agents, freight forwarders, truckers and others.
THISDAY investigations showed that break bulk terminals at the ports are struggling to pay their bills and meet their financial obligations to the NPA due to the plethora of banned products and the hike on import duties on others.
For instance, the hike in import duty on rice, the restriction imposed on the importation of fish and on cement are all taking a huge toll on the income of the break bulk terminals as their revenue has dipped by over 60 per cent. The imposition of 100 per cent import duty on rice and an additional 10 per cent levy have had the most debilitating effect on the break bulk terminals as handling of rice cargo accounts for more than half of their revenue.
Director, Research and Advocacy, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Vincent Nwani, said, “There must be an urgent review of the CBN’s policy on the restriction of access to foreign exchange placed on 41 items, as about 16 of the total items in the list, serve as critical raw materials for intermediate goods produced in Nigeria, especially as the country lacks the capacity for optimal production of the items.”