Business returns to seaports, say freight forwarders

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 Anna Okon

Freight forwarders have become busy again. They say that their business has begun to witness a boom in the past two weeks as more vessels return to the seaports, following a month and three weeks’ old ban imposed on importation of cars through the land borders.

The National Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr. Osita Chukwu, disclosed this to our correspondent in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

He said, “Business is improving. In the last two weeks, the ports have received a lot of vessels.”

Business for freight forwarders took a turn for the worse in 2015 following the dwindling fortunes of the maritime industry. Many of them were said to have jettisoned their business and taken to okada (commercial motorcycle) riding and other occupations to survive.

Several policies articulated by the government in 2014 including the National Automotive Industry Policy, which brought about a hike in import duty on cars, the rice policy and the Central Bank of Nigeria’s restriction of access to foreign exchange for some categories of imports, plunged the sector into deeper distress.

Terminals at the ports reportedly witnessed over 50 per cent drop in vehicle imports that triggered low business activities at the ports. The situation became exacerbated by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s restriction of access to foreign exchange for 41 items of imports.

The situation led to the flight of importers to seaports of neighbouring countries where they cleared their cargo before transporting same to Nigeria by road.

To address the loss of revenue to Nigeria through the seaports, the Federal Government in 2016 announced a ban on importation of cars through the land borders. The implementation of the ban took effect on January 1, 2017.

Stakeholders and analysts had predicted that it would take a long time for importers to return to the ports following the ban. They attributed the reason to the high duty imposed on vehicle imports.

The Managing Director of PTML, Ascanio Russo, while supporting the ban, had urged the government to review the duty downwards to drive traffic to the ports.

Earlier, the Chairman, Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, Mrs. Vicky Haastrup, remarked that since the high tariff was introduced, importers had resorted to landing their vehicles at the ports of neighbouring countries and smuggling them into Nigeria without paying appropriate duties to government adding that this amounted to huge revenue loss to Customs.

“The policy also led to loss of more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs at the affected ports,” she said.

But Chukwu said those thrown out of business because of the situation at the ports were now back and happier.

‘’They were thrown out of business because of the lack of activities at the ports. Now, unlike the previous times when they would come and spend the whole day there without doing anything, they are now busier and happier.’’

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