Samson Echenim, in Abuja
Vice president of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo has called on African governments to develop their countries’ transport infrastructure for a seamless implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Osinbajo in a keynote address at the sub-regional summit of Union of African Shippers’ Council (UASC), in Abuja, said for Africa to successfully implement the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA), member states of the African Union must as a matter of priority, focus on the development of transport infrastructure.
“At present, trade among countries in Africa is abysmally low due to poor connectivity and lack of adequate transport infrastructure. One of the negative impact of poor connectivity is the intra-regional trade in Africa which is below 13 per cent. In Asia intra-regional trade is 53 percent while it is 71 per cent in Europe,” said Osinbajo, who was represented by Rotimi Amaechi, minister of Transportation.
He continued, “In line with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union Agenda 2063, we need to focus on growth and sustainable development by providing inclusive social and economic development as well as regional integration through transport connectivity in the sub region. We strongly believe that modern transport infrastructure will not only link Africa but also substantially reduce transport cost.
“There is need therefore, for the West and Central African countries to come together and adopt common political, diplomatic and operational strategies that will positively impact on the economy of the su- region. This could be done through the constitution of a standing group of experts to represent the sub-region and engage shipowners on surcharges and related issues.
Themed, “Unfair shipping surcharges and high local shipping charges on national economy of West and Central African states,” the vice president noted that the process of introduction of these surcharges lacked transparency and were not based on verifiable and available statistics.
Osinbajo said, “In addition, the unilateral and arbitrary imposition of such surcharges on West and Central African bound cargo contradicts the norms and ethics of maritime transport. These surcharges amount to huge sums of illegal capital flight from the countries of the sub-region depleting their limited foreign exchange/reserves.
“To reduce transport cost and improve efficiency in line with the economic recovery and growth plan, the government of Nigeria is promoting the establishment of inland ports, standard gauge railway, truck transit parks and deep seaport in Lekki that supports multimodal approach to cargo delivery.
“In other words, the group is expected to audit and interrogate the cost elements in trade and transport with a view to eliminate its inflationary effect on the regional economy and make our export products competitive in the international market.”
The Nigerian vice president lauded the courage of the Union of African Shippers’ Council and Global Shippers’ Forum for beaming its searchlight on the issues of surcharges in Africa, adding that Nigeria will not hesitate to take appropriate measures, including legislation to check these unfair trade practices.
“In this regard, the federal government has mandated the Nigerian Shippers’ Council in her capacity as the port economic regulator to carry out a comprehensive audit of all the seaport terminals in Nigeria to ascertain their efficiency and competitiveness. Government will ensure that the outcome of the audit report will be fully implemented for improve port operation. The report the audit will also spell out the responsibilities of terminals and federal government.
“Similarly, the council in her capacity as the port economic regulator is further mandate to monitor and supervise compliance to the Standards Operating Procedures by all port agencies and port service providers for improved service delivery.
“For instance, data obtained fron Nigerian Shippers Council confirmation of reasonableness of demurrage charges for Central Bank of Nigeria revealed that more than N2 billion is repatriated by multinational shipping companies in quarter of a year,” Osinbajo said.