The introduction of the e-valuator and e-invoicing for import and export by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is a contravention of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA). The new system is in breach of the Customs and Excise Management (amendment) Act 20 of 2003 on the valuation of goods, and the Customs and Excise Management Act C 45 of 2004 for the procedure of import regulation and export.
The valuation of goods in Nigeria, prescribed under CEMA 20 of 2003 (as amended), gave the power of treatment, process, procedures and determination of the valuation of goods under the Act based on the domestication of the agreement on World Trade Organisation (WTO) under the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) Articles IIV. The power to give guidelines on import and export is domiciled with the Minister of Finance as prescribed in Section 36 and 57 of the Customs and Excise Management Act of 2004. These are the only legal instruments for the treatment, procedure, and application of imported goods in Nigeria, as well as the regulation of importation into the country by sea, air, and land borders. Going by these, there is no provision that gives the CBN power to alter the law on valuation of goods on import or the regulation on the procedure on the issuance of guidelines on import and export, especially when its main function is on monetary policy with regards to exchange rate.
The application of benchmark to importation and exportation contravenes the CEMA. The benchmarks are not acceptable as their treatment falls under the Brussels definition of value, which is outlawed globally.
I want to urge the apex bank to ensure that the law is obeyed by withdrawing the circular, noting that if implemented, it will bring about duplication, as well as lengthy and cumbersome procedures in the nation’s import and export system, especially to those who are not experts on valuation, import and export procedures. Also, I want to advise that CBN should not duplicate the functions of the finance ministry and that of the Nigeria Customs Service on value procedures, determination, invoice, documentation, and electronic application.
The process will make importers pay more as they will also be charged by Customs officers on duty. No matter how accurate the value of a product is, the Nigeria Customs Service have a way to find a non-existing fault and extort money from traders. The process is not the problem but the apex bank needs proper consultation with all stakeholders. This includes the traders, the presidency, lawmakers, and Nigeria Customs Service, and look for a solution.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by virtue of the amended Act 7 of 2007 is misinterpreting section 2 sub-section a-e. Sub-section 2a states that the CBN shall enforce monetary and price stability to dabble into issues affecting importation which falls under fiscal policies. We need to reiterate that the issue of fiscal policies and monetary policies is very clear and unambiguous on the agencies that are responsible. The Federal Ministry of Finance should be responsible for implementing fiscal policies via Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), while the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) shall implement monetary policies. The CBN began with issuing forex prohibition list for over 80 items, which are not under the import prohibition list and this directives led to situations where the various commercial banks refused to open Form M for Nigerian traders/importers, except very few privileged traders that can produce waiver letters from the CBN. This alone caused two issues in our import and export documentation. The issues has led to a situation where many importers, out of frustration, resorted to false declarations of imports thereby affecting the level of compliance and a reduction in revenue that ought to accrue into the federation account. Various commercial banks began to extort the innocent importers to apply for waiver approval even when these importers have gotten the forex from the black market. The issue of false declaration has now become a norm in people’s daily lives, which is affecting level of compliance negatively.
CBN should focus on its primary functions of monetary policy and not fiscal policies, which has resulted in false declaration on imports. CBN cannot evaluate prices, as it is the core function of the Nigeria Customs Service by virtue of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), which provides for value of imported goods, which operates principally based on the agreement on customs valuation.
The automation of Customs procedure has been a key component of Customs reforms and modernisation initiatives, amongst which e-invoicing falls, and it is important to trade facilitation as emphasised by international organisations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Central Bank of Nigeria should be mandated to publish the list of forex beneficiaries on a monthly basis and also analyse the list of defaulters i.e. those that have received forex, for the purposes of importation but failed to utilise it for the purpose.
The policy will negatively affect people’s business. Personally, my business will be affected because the government should not determine unit price for importers. There is a major problem in the market which is shortage of forex which cannot be solved by regulating the price. How can you tell me the price at which I should buy and sell my goods when you are not assisting me in production or financing? Also, the policy is bound to lead to scarcity of goods in the country and will trigger inflation. The requirement for foreign firms to register directly could back fire on their businesses as they have no control over foreign entities. The plan to monitor prices is not realistic. For instance, I get a deal with a supplier abroad, and they book a space for my goods on the ship, and I cannot pay them, then they will charge me for debt freight. I will lose business relationship because the supplier will think I am not a serious buyer.
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