- Shippers’ Council tips innovation to boost regional trade
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have introduced cross-border traders and stakeholders to a new platform, ECOWAS Trade Obstacles Alert Mechanism (TOAM) in order to eliminate non-tariff barriers.
Border security agencies, traders, chambers of commerce, among other stakeholders within the West African sub-region converged at Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) headquarters for a sensitization programme, yesterday.
Speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary, NSC, Hon. Emmanuel Jime said this at the sensitisation workshop was to create awareness to professional organisations and stakeholders in cross-border trade on their roles in elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) via ECOWAS TOAM.
“Numerous studies conducted along the borders of West African nations have consistently highlighted the impediments faced by traders, particularly in border crossings and customs clearance processes. These barriers, comprising lengthy clearance times, transit checkpoints with unwarranted delays, harassments, exorbitant illegal fees, and demands for bribes, have far-reaching consequences.”
“They not only disrupt the seamless flow of goods but also pose a direct threat to our regional integration endeavours. We are at a juncture where acknowledging the challenges is no longer sufficient. We have a solemn duty to identify practical solutions that will significantly reduce the prevalence of these obstacles,” the NSC boss said.
Jime noted that in this pursuit, TOAM emerged as a potent tool, adding that it was officially launched during the second meeting of the ECOWAS Regional Trade Facilitation Committee (RTFC) in November 2022.
He pointed out that TOAM was engineered to mitigate non- tariff barriers across the ECOWAS region, and operate via an online reporting system bolstered by a handpicked interagency network.
Jime, however, stressed that through this platform, businesses could promptly submit or report obstacles to public sector agencies, receive responses, and remain informed about queries submitted by fellow operators concerning specific products or countries.
“TOAM’s initial results are encouraging, as over 400 obstacles have been reported through this mechanism across West Africa with more than 49 percent of them effectively addressed,” he stated.
Jime also pointed out that the NSC was committed to promoting trade and facilitating seamless cross-border transactions and as such, initiated ideas to sustain it such as establishing Border Information Centre, Complaint Units.
Meanwhile, the Principal Trade Advisor, ECOWAP -VSAID Operational Programme, ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Justin Bayili, observed that there is a need to create good conditions for trade facilitation in the region.
“The issue of reporting complaints, once, twice or even the third time without getting response is not good as this will make the person to lose focus. Two months ago, we took a trip from Mile 2 to Badagry and experienced 67 checkpoints, this delay goods and thus making the goods costly for the business community,” he said.
Also speaking, the Chambers of Commerce President, Ikom branch, Mrs. Flora Agbiji Takim-Ndifo, opined that eventhough the ECOWAS TOAM initiative is a laudable one, it wouldn’t deliver the much-desired change in cross-border trade if the implementation isn’t taking seriously.
Her words: “We have great policies but we also usually have problems with the implementation. If we are all sincere and we let TOAM work, it will actually enhance the ease of doing business, particularly cross-border business”
According to her, the greatest strength of TOAM is the knowledge that one can do business legitimately without any fear of hindrance from anybody. However, she lamented that Nigeria-Cameroon trade volumes isn’t great because of numerous challenges.
“We expect that we can escalate the volume of trade with trucks conveying goods with the introduction of TOAM and not just small vehicles with few items. We will be very delighted if everyone supports this initiative.”
“If TOAM does work and it becomes effective, it would ease business operations because everyone will be monitored via the platform. So, if there is an infraction one can call in real time and get a response immediately. Definitely, this will be different from a situation where we don’t even have an opportunity to report a problem or get a solution,” she told News Diet on the sidelines.
The event was attended by an array of stakeholders including; Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), freight forwarders, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Manufacturer’s Association of Nigeria, Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), among others.