By DAPO OLAWUNI
The National Action Committee on implementation of African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) has entered into partnership with Nigeria’s port economic regulator and trade facilitator; ThNigerian Shippers Council, in order to ensure that the country benefits optimally from the AfCFTA.
The AfCFTA is expected to take off officially by January 1st 2020. Nigeria is one of the 52 countries that has ratified the Agreement, even as President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a National Action Committee to coordinate Nigeria’s implementation of the agreement.
At a visit to the Apapa headquarters of Shippers Council in Lagos on Friday, members of the AfCFTA Committee led by one of its Co-champion, Ms Funmi Folorunsho described the agreement as a game changer, even as he said that the AfCFTA implementation cannot be successful without the Nigerian Shippers Council.
“The AfCFTA potends a lot of good for the whole of Africa, the potentials have not been quantified by anybody i dare say, everybody is looking at it from various angle, in terms of Agriculture, manufacturing and so on, but the truth about it is that, it is a game changer”
“We are here to ensure that Nigeria takes a leadership position in the African trade area, but our focus is the transportation work stream. We are talking about massive potentials in maritime, rail, airport and road”
Ms Folorunso said that Nigeria has little time as the trade agreement is coming into effect by 1st January 2021.
Continuing she said “We appreciate that Shippers Council has done a lot of work, even during the COVID-19, you kept the economy going, so, this is our first port of call after the workshop”
“The Executive Secretary, Hassan Bello has been part of the industry, Shippers Council has led the industry, therefore, if we want to work and be successful, we must start here”
“We want to work with you, we have brought the interim report of the workshop.
The essence of this meeting is to start up an engagement with the Nigerian Shippers Council, we cannot go forward without the Shippers Council” she said
Responding, the Shippers Council Executive Secretary, Barrister Hassan Bello noted that, as the AfCFTA is coming into effect by January, it is important that Nigeria wakes up to the realities of time.
According to him, other countries like Morocco, Kenya, South Africa, are more prepared than Nigeria, while Nigerian ports still battles with gridlock, 100% examination of cargoes and lack of port connectivity and multi modal transportation.
Bello however expressed optimisms inline with various ongoing projects, the infrastructure deficits is being corrected, and this would eventually make Nigeria to catch up with other countries.
The Shippers Council boss assured that By March 2021, the gridlock of Apapa would dissappear.
“This is because we are approaching it from a scientific angle, first, we have to make our ports digital and contact less.
“The rail is also being developed to stop 100% dependency on the roads to move cargoes, we also have the barges through the inland waterways taking the cargoes”
“By December, the Nigerian Ports Authority would deploy the electronic call up system, this again is traffic management and it would make our port competitive”
“The customs on its own is deploying e-customs in accordance with World Customs Organisation, scanners would be there, and the 100$ physical examination would be a thing of the past”
“If we look our wary ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island, we are having another port, the Lekki Deep Seaport which is 18 meters draft, employing 240,000 direct employment” he said
Bello argued that the AfCFTA agreement is good, but it would only favour countries that are ready and continously improving on their infrastructure.
“If I look at our stage of readiness, then I would say that we have a lot of work to do.
We have deficit of infrastructures including road, rail and connectivity within our ports and the hinterlands, as well as other ports within West Africa”
“We have resources that makes us a natural leader and the biggest economy in Africa with 200million people, vast stretch of hinterland, vast coastline and so on. But all these has to come together with concerted efforts to make sure that trade is made easy”
Already, he said that Shippers Council has had border information centres in two border posts; Niger and Benin Republic where staff gather information and also link exporters to these neighbouring countries and give them trade information.
While assuring the AfCFTA team, he said “We are ready to work with you to create these advantages that are not there and diversify our economy”
The Shippers Council boss subsequently assured that staff of the agency would be appointed to work with the Committee, even as he promised to provide them a secretariat.
Ms Folorunso on her part told journalists that, from Monday November 30th, the Committee would be going round to sensitise and meet with truckers and haulage service providers.
The AfCFTA agreement seeks to create a single market for made-in Africa goods and services to boost intra-Africa trade and deepen economic integration of African countries.