Recently, the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, under the able leadership of Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Jime, successfully hosted the Meeting of Union of African Shippers Councils (UASC) Committee of experts on cost and mini sensitization workshop on African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Discussions at the UASC’s sensitization workshop on AfCFTA, where the need for regional trade promotion was accentuated, centred on the elimination of all elements of cost relating to delays and practices militating against smooth trade and economic growth in Africa. The constant imposition of arbitrary and high shipping charges by multinational shipping lines operating within the West and Central African sub-region was a major issue of concern at the gathering.
The two-day meeting/workshop which had representatives from the 19 member countries of the UASC, created an avenue for the committee of experts and other stakeholders to brainstorm on how to correct the trade imbalance that exists between the African continent and other parts of the world.
Speaking at the workshop held in Barcelona Hotel Abuja, Jime, who has been working hard to reposition NSC for greater performance since he assumed office about three months ago as the Executive Secretary/CEO, said: “This meeting provides another platform to enable members interact and share information to keep us abreast of the sub-regional trend on transport and related matters that would guide us in taking informed decisions to utilize our potentials and maximize our areas of comparative advantage. We have to deliberate on thematic issues and make far reaching resolutions to address the challenges of high transport cost in the sub region.
“We cannot continue to remain at the mercy of the foreign shipping lines to determine the fate of our trade and transport through the imposition of unreasonable charges and surcharges on our economies. There is need to scrutinize details involved in determining the cost of services rendered at our ports, make scientific comparisons with other ports of the world and arrive at acceptable rates for mutually beneficial transactions.
“It is time for us to rise to the occasion by leveraging on relevant technologies to increase efficiency, advise our various governments on required policies and regulations to boost our trade and transport sector and discourage the continuous implementation of processes that contribute to delays and high cost of doing business at our ports.”
Continuing, he added: “The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2020 report shows that the total trade for Africa was about $386 Billion and the West and Central Africa accounted for more than 36% of this figure. This reflects the importance of the sub region in the economy of the African continent, but I believe we can do better if we critically address our areas of inefficiencies..
“The UASC has a big role to play in promoting the implementation of AfCFTA to the benefit of her member countries. As we are all aware, there is huge imbalance in trade between Africa and the rest of the world. We need to correct this anomaly through aggressive sensitization and putting in place relevant processes and infrastructure to make trade within the sub region easier and by extension to the entire continent.”
In a keynote speech at the event, Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, told the delegates that it has become imperative for every necessary step to be taken to put an end to high shipping charges within West and Central African countries.
The minister, represented by Auwal Suleiman, Director Maritime Services, Federal Ministry of Transportation, remarked: “The Federal Government of Nigeria is aware of the unreasonably high cost of transportation of goods to and from the sub-regional ports due to high freight rates, poor infrastructure and arbitrary surcharges such as war risk surcharges, port recovery surcharge, port congestion surcharge, peak season surcharge, Bunker Adjustment Factor (BAF), Currency Adjustment Factor (CAF), extra insurance risk surcharge et al.
“I am equally aware that the member councils of the Union are concerned about the lack of consultation, timing, and cost structure of these surcharges. These surcharges are mostly unilateral and at times new nomenclature introduced by the multinational shipping companies/lines without consultation with the sub-regional authorities or the shippers. The process of the introduction of these surcharges lack transparency and may not be based on verifiable and available statistics. These surcharges amount to huge sums of capital flight from the sub-regional economies and thereby depleting the limited foreign reserve.”
It is hoped that the adoption and implementation of the recommendations and submissions of the UASC’s committee of experts at the workshop by governments of member states will lead to cost reduction, enhance efficiency and promote competitiveness in the African business environment.
The UASC founded in 1977 and headquartered in Douala, Cameroon, is the umbrella body of Shippers’ Councils in the West and Central African sub-region. The member states are: Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Congo, Chad, Cameroun, Angola, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast.
It joined the Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF) in September 2010 and has maintained close ties with other international organisations including: World Trade Organisation (WTO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and World Customs Organisation (WCO).
Trading under the pact establishing AfCFTA, of which about 38 African countries have already ratified, officially commenced on January 1, 2021 after a delay of six months from the original take-off date due to the outbreak of COVID-19 last year. AfCFTA was principally designed to build a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of people and investments, help strengthen economic integration and grow intra-African trade via better synchronization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation across the Regional Economic Communities and Africa at large. It is the world’s largest free trade zone since the formation of the WTO in 1994 in terms of the number of nations participating.
The UASC and AfCFTA Secretariat had in July this year signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate and support each other to achieve mutual benefits for the purpose of boosting intra-African trade through the removal of all transit impediments and elimination of non-tariff barriers.
Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja