Import exchange rate increase: port users criticise strike action

While some clearing agents are beating the drums of war and threatening to shut down the ports over the current hike in import duties by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), an opinion sampling among stakeholders shows that six out of every 10 port user thinks strike action is an unpopular tool to get the authorities to back down on such “an insensitive policy.’’
Some port users told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that shutting down the ports would only add to the suffering experienced presently by stakeholders but called for persuasion and constructive engagements to get the federal government to benchmark the exchange rate for customs duty.
A clearing agent who belongs to one the notable associations at the ports told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, ‘’I may not come out on the pages of newspaper to criticize the opinion of my national chairman but for me shutting the ports is not the answer. It is backward, obsolete and sometimes counterproductive. Yes sometimes you can go on strike to press your case but that tool should be used sparingly.’’
One of the groups that support constructive engagement over the increase is the National Association of Government Approved Freight forwarders (NAGAFF).The Founder of the Association; Boniface Aniebonam said the body had written several letters to the government over the issue. For him the ‘’exchange rate can be benchmarked for the purposes of import duty.’’
The Lilypond Chapter Chairman of the Association, Emma Agubanze said of shutting the ports ‘’NAGAFF does belittle itself in strike actions. We believe in negotiation, in dialogue, persuasions and partnership. We don’t believe in shutting down the ports.  As professionals, we should not begin to act in a manner that suggests we do not know what we are doing,’’ he declared.
He noted ‘’when we are affected by any policy of government, we sit down with those in charge and negotiate. NAGAFF will not be part of any group that wants to shut down the ports because if you do, you shut down the economic life wire of the nation.’’
But the Apapa Chapter Spokesman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Chukwumalu Emeka, told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that those who criticize the idea of taking a hard posture by the clearing agents and even importers to get the government to reduce the import duty are being clever by half and may even be playing to the gallery.
‘’It is not about ANCLA or Shittu, it is about the suffering masses. As the day progresses I tell you it is going to be very hard on the citizens. Do you think if the importer sources his money at high cost and brings his goods at that high cost he will come and play Father Christmas?
‘’People need to understand what we are saying. The citizens are suffering and the government is not helping matters with such a policy. I don’t say the government should not come up with policies to regulate the economy but my take here is such a policy must have a human face if the entire masses must not suffer.’’
There are fears that agents and freight forwarders  are now closing shop for poor patronage, as importers reeling under the weight new import duty  are finding it hard to cope with the load of the new exchange rate which is now N313 to $1,  increased  from N197 to a dollar last year by the Nigeria Customs Service..
The Nigeria Customs Services (NCS) increased duty twice in a month, in line with the new Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) flexible foreign exchange rate policy. The first time was effective July 1, when the customs directed that the dollar rate used for calculating import duty be increased from N197 to N286 to a dollar. From August 1, the calculations went up to the new rate.
ANCLA headquarters was alleged to have threatened to shut down the ports if the government does not rescind the decision.    Shippers in the country also threatened to stop using Nigerian seaports to bring in their goods from overseas due to high duties payable on imported goods.

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