Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Freight Forwarders And Container Terminal Operators Join Forces

Nigeria Must Clean Up Its Act
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA – After what can only be described as a somewhat hostile relationship between the country’s freight forwarders and port terminal operators in recent months, it seems communications between the two groups appear to be thawing following an olive branch offered by representatives of the forwarding and customs broking communities.

The recent rows have caused bad blood between the two sides of the logistics supply chain with accusations of self interest, and worse, being bandied about by both sides in the past but now it seems that there is mutual agreement that the customs clearing agents and container and bulk terminal operators need to cooperate in a difficult market.

After cutting cargo handling charges by a third in 2006 the terminal operators have been unable to return to previous levels of profitability and, with a downturn in cargo volumes forwarders have also felt the pinch. Now the Government has lifted the import ban on certain items, furniture, cassava and textiles for example, but imposed swingeing duty rates instead, both cargo handlers and freight forwarders foresee a chance to increase revenue, and have switched their criticism to government controlled security agencies at ports, airports and border crossing points.

Whilst trade bans have been in place it seems many consider this has just meant a flood of illegal imports, particularly textiles, entering Nigeria with no duties or taxes raised whatsoever. There are also ongoing concerns at the ease of obtaining weapons in the country despite the attentions of the National Taskforce on the Importation of Illegal Arms, Ammunition and Light Weapons (NATFORCE) whom the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) seem to view as an obstacle to trade. For some months ANLCA say they have been investigating possible corruption within the Nigerian Customs Service.

As is usual there is still much backbiting and criticism in the press from various factions, many of whom have vested political interests, over the government’s stance on imports and duties, the cost and unreliability of fuel supplies and the perceived levels of corruption and disinformation. Couple this with the recent bomb blasts in Abuja, Jos and elsewhere, apparently sponsored by Islamic fundamentalists, plus the activities of MEND guerrillas in the Niger delta and beyond, plus Israeli allegations that the country is used as a forwarding point for munitions bound for Iran, Nigeria will need to work hard to raise its profile as a sound market in which to do business.

March will see the African Logistics Summit held in Abuja which will give the country’s freight community the chance to show what they can achieve. They would be well advised to look closely at the problems which still exist and work together at the highest levels to ensure they can improve the face that the Nigerian shipping sector presents to the world.

Photo:- Courtesy of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).