Maritime sector stakeholders have expressed concerns over the federal government's policy on cargo palletisation, noting that it will cost Nigerian importers about $60million (N21.6 billion) annually.
The stakeholders were also unanimous in their resolution that the controversial policy will increase the diversion of Nigerian-bound cargoes to the ports of neighbouring countries where the policy is not implemented.
The stakeholders made this known at a meeting organised by maritime media consulting firm, Ships & Ports in Lagos to brainstorm on the matter.
The federal government had late last year directed all containerised cargoes coming into Nigeria to be on a pallet.
The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun had explained that the new measure would aid manual examination of consignment while the country awaits the acquisition and installation of functional scanners at the seaports and land borders.
However, the maritime stakeholders also raised issues on the importation of strange organisms into the country through wooden pallets and the management of the pallet waste after use.
Speaking at the meeting, National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu said the palletisation policy holds no benefit for the country and "will also further breed corruption" at the port.
"The policy will be difficult for shippers because we are an import dependent nation. Palletisation will enhance corruption in the ports, as a good chunk of the internally generated revenue in the port goes into private pockets. Palletisation should not be our priority, rather let us look at how we can improve services at the ports," he said.
On his part, General Manager Shipping, SIFAX Group, Mr. Henry Ajoh, who represented the Executive Vice Chairman of SIFAX Group, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, expressed fears over the implementation of the new policy stating that "it cannot work in Nigeria".
According to Ajoh, what the ports need urgently is enhanced cargo examination system to facilitate ease of doing business.
He said: "We need scanners. Government needs to deploy technology at the port for Customs examination and release processes. That is the way to go. Palletisation takes us backward and cannot work in Nigeria."
Also speaking, the Managing Director of CMA CGM - a leading container carrier operating in Nigeria, Mr. Todd Rives said that the policy would lead to the loss of over $60 million annually, warning that the policy must be thoroughly thought through by government.
In his remarks, Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers' Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello said that palletisation of cargo is international best practice.
He said the introduction of the policy in Nigeria was to enhance physical examination of cargo by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Bello also noted that there are cargoes that cannot be palletised, noting that as a Council, it had to listen to stakeholders and take their concerns to the relevant government authorities.
The meeting, which had the theme, "Whither the Palletisation Policy," was attended by an array of maritime industry stakeholders from: NSC; NCS; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); SIFAX Group Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON); Maersk Line; Manufacturers Association of Nigeria; Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry;, Association of Nigeria; ANLCA; Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Ports Consultative Council, shipping companies and terminal operators, among others.
Adeosun had while speaking a sensitisation workshop on revised import and export guidelines organised by the Ministry of Finance in Lagos, asked all stakeholders directly be involved in the export and import trade value chains to become acquainted with export and import guidelines to avoid sanction.
She said: "Furthermore, in order to ensure quick clearance of import at the Nigerian ports and borders, the additional responsibilities assigned to the relevant government agencies would be carried out in a well-coordinated and collaborated manner, while the sanctions specified for non-compliance with the provisions of the guidelines would be strictly and impartially applied across board."