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LCCI calls for Presidential intervention amid Nigeria Customs Service’s weak trade facilitation culture

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By Audrey Lotechukwu

MON 15 MARCH, 2021-theGBJournal- ‘’A major shortcoming in our international trade process is the absence of an independent, credible, and prompt appeal mechanism.  It is a situation that is hurting investment and weakening investors’ confidence,’’ said the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).

The Chamber said Sunday in a statement signed by its Director General, Muda Yusuf, that this mechanism is unfair to investors and not consistent with the principles of natural justice, arguing that many companies have been compelled to pay outrageous additional charges on imports thus distorting their investment plans and projections.

The Chamber’s position stems from the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) shortcomings in dispute management on matters of product valuation and harmonized system of product classification.

The Chamber also described the situation as ‘’one of the most distressing encounters experienced by investors in the Nigerian economy,’’ and called on the President to intervene by setting up an Independent Appeal Mechanism to deal with issues of valuation and HS classification between the Nigeria Customs Service and the Business community.

According to the Chamber, a major shortcoming in our international trade process is the absence of an independent, credible, and prompt appeal mechanism.  It is a situation that is hurting investment and weakening investors’ confidence. 

‘’Importers are left entirely at the mercy of the customs in the absence of a credible, independent window for dispute settlement between the customs and the private sector. Under the present arrangement, the Customs Service is the accuser and the judge.

This mechanism is unfair to investors and not consistent with the principles of natural justice. Many companies have been compelled to pay outrageous additional charges on imports thus distorting their investment plans and projections. Discretionary interpretations on product classification and valuation poses enormous corruption risks in customs processes.’’

The Chamber noted that the biggest corruption risks in the interface between the customs and the business community are around these two issues. 

‘’This situation is hurting investors across all sectors – manufacturing, agro-allied, ICT, construction, Services etc.  It is a disincentive to domestic and foreign investment; it creates uncertainty and aggravates investment risk, it undermines economic diversification prospects, depresses capacity utilization, and limits the scope for job creation.  It is also not consistent with the vision to make Nigeria a top investment destination.’’

It said suggested that Independent Appeal Mechanism could be set up within the framework of an Executive Order. 

‘’This is necessary to restore the confidence of investors in the international trade process.’’

The Chamber also noted the weak trade facilitation culture and absent customer service orientation within the NCS which it says is ‘’hurting investment, frustrating trade, and creating a negative investment sentiment,’’ and concluded that ‘’a presidential intervention has become inevitable, especially with the onset of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).’’

It said that there is need to ensure a balance between regulatory controls, revenue generation and trade facilitation functions of the Nigerian customs service.

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