- Experts proffer solutions to regional trade bottlenecks
Experts in logistics and transport industry have identified suboptimal transport infrastructure and a cumbersome business environment as some of the biggest threats to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
These were the topmost issues discussed at the ongoing 2023 National Conference/ Annual General Meeting of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) Nigeria, themed: “Designing the Future of Transportation and Logistics in Africa”
While delivering the lead paper on “Cross-border Trade and Regional Integration”, a professor of International Economic Relations, Covenant University, Nigeria, Prof. Jonathan Aremu identified insufficient transport infrastructure and unprofessional activities of government agencies at ports and borders as huge threats to the AfCFTA.
Corroborating this challenge, a former Director General of the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI) Lagos, Prof. Ngozi Egbuna observed that it is only when Nigerians are exporting non-perishable items that they not greatly perturbed by the delays associated with poor transport infrastructure and activities of government officials at ports or land borders.
She, however, advised African governments to prioritize the improvement of transport infrastructure, access to finance and enshrine trade efficiency at the level seen in developed economies in the bid to enhance the cross-border trade environment and simplify port operations in Africa.
“I remember going to Cairo for the AFREXIM Bank trade fair and as at the time we were leaving Cairo after the event, some goods hadn’t arrived for them to be displayed at the trade fair. Some of those goods were coming from Ghana, Kenya and Addis- Ababa, but they didn’t arrive until the end of the trade fair. This is a challenge we have in Africa,” Prof. Egbuna remarked.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Le Look Nigeria Limited, Mrs. Chinwe Ezenwa, identified an absence of integration of supply-chain in AfCFTA considerations, stressing that there are huge challenges to exports from Customs, infrastructure and return policies.
“Business is war and there are enemies on every side. In this AfCFTA, we don’t even know what the integration is all about when it comes to export trade. From manufacturing to supply-chain, customs operations to transport infrastructure, on every side there are challenges. This explains why we have more informal trade across the borders and AfCFTA might not achieve the ideals it was conceived to address; if these problems persist.
“When we produce our goods and ship to Ghana, we find that sometimes the goods are detained at the Customs shed at Ghana. The goods spend about 6 weeks to be cleared in Ghana, even though it was a shop in Ghana that ordered for these goods, ” Ezenwa said.
While describing Customs as an enabler in AfCFTA trade, she noted that documentation processes for shipping to Ghana and some other African countries are too cumbersome; even as she stressed the need to have effective Return Policy for African exports and goods to be traded under AfCFTA.
On her part, former Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Special Duties, Dr. Anthonia Ekpa OON, observed that corruption along the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) corridor as a huge challenge to regional trade and integration.
“Traders are encouraged to use the land borders and ports, but Customs, Police and other agencies don’t seem to understand that goods are time-bound. Sometimes goods are seized and forgotten at the warehouses of the security agencies.”
“Regional integration means allowing citizens and goods from one country easily access the other nation; but Nigeria flouted this for a long period with the border closure and we know that they were huge socio-economic consequences for nations on both sides of the border,” Ekpa said.
On his part, the Chairman, Ecomarine Group, Mr. Mahmud Tukur, noted that shipping to several African countries remains more expensive than trading with Europe and Asia as a result of the absence of carriers.
Tukur, who was represented by the Managing Director of Ecomarine, Mr. Dayo Balogun, suggested that AfCFTA seriously considers the development of short-sea shipping and regional Cabotage to retain monetary benefits of AfCFTA trade.
Speaking on the trade/ logistics situation in Nigeria, the Ecomarine boss argued that it is cheaper to move a container from China to Lagos ports than to move the same container from Lagos to Kano.
He called for massive investments in transport infrastructure, highlighting Eastern ports dredging, railway, roads and barge operations as areas that could enhance transport of goods in the country and boost exports.
In her welcome address, the President of CILT Nigeria, Barr. (Mrs.) Mfon Usoro said the conference theme: “Designing the Future of Transportation and Logistics in Africa” was carefully chosen to align with the revitalized push for intra-African trade under the AfCFTA.
Her words: “The conference theme and content underscore the crucial role of efficient and sustainable logistics and transport in the attainment of the goals of AfCFTA. As the world looks to the large market and youthful population in Africa, professional bodies such as ours continue to drive intelligent and incisive conversations intended to produce pragmatic policies and competent implementing organs of government that promotes growth of the private sector in wealth creation so that Nigeria and other African States can evolve into major players in the global economy.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo (SAN) stressed that the efficient movement of goods and people not only fuels economic growth but is intrinsically tied to the nation’s food security initiatives.
His words: “In the realm of aviation and aerospace development, we are presented with opportunities to redefine the landscape of transportation, fostering economic growth and enhancing our commitment to sustainable development goals. The relevance of our discussions here today extends seamlessly to the 8-point agenda set forth by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In our pursuit of a more prosperous future, the transportation and logistics sector plays a pivotal role in translating vision into reality.”
The Aviation Minister, who was represented by his Special Adviser, Mr. Henry Agbebire, argued that a well-managed logistics and transport system would also have profound impact on job creation.
“The aerospace and logistics sectors are dynamic engines of employment, providing opportunities that span a spectrum of skills and expertise, contributing significantly to the overarching goals and aspirations of the government of our nation. By harnessing cutting-edge technologies and strategic partnerships, we can not only optimize logistics but also contribute to a greener and more sustainable future,” he said.
A book launch also took place at the event as the Chairman, Conference Planning Committee, Prof. Kayode Oyesiku, explained that the 9-chapter book: “Perspectives on Sustainable Innovations in Global Logistics and Transportation” was developed from the papers academia and experts as well as international delegates postulations during the 2022 CILT National Conference.
The event was graced by several transport bigwigs including; the President-elect, CILT International, Chief Teete Owusu-Nortey; former Minister of Aviation, Dr. (Mrs.) Kema Chikwe; CILT International Vice President and Chairman, African Forum, Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril; President, Chartered Institute of Transport Administration (CIoTA) Nigeria, Prince Segun Obayendo; Founder, Women in Logistics and Transport (WiLAT), Hajia Aisha Ali-Ibrahim; Founder, ABC Transport Plc, Mr. Frank Nneji; former President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Eugene Nweke; among others.