Liberia: Commerce Ministry, Partners Identify Barriers to Trade

As trade reforms continue under the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and collaborating institutions in the trade sector of Liberia yesterday convened a day-long meeting in Monrovia to determine issues and actions that are impeding trade and commerce in the country.

The meeting held at a local hotel was attended by high ranking officials of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Liberia Revenue Authority, APM Terminals, Bureau Veritas (BIVAC), the National Port Authority and the Custom Brokers Association of Liberia.

The event which focused on Mapping and Reviewing of Import Processes of goods into the country as well as the current system or channels being applied to clear goods and other items from the Free Port of Monrovia was intensely discussed to ameliorate and mitigate the obstacles so as to facilitate and enhance trade, commerce and especially the smooth clearing of containers and other items from the Ports of entry to the country.

Some of the issues put forward by the participants were the Import Permit Declaration (IPD) which they claimed the process of acquiring is too tedious.

But Deputy Commerce Ministry for Trade Services, Mr. Nyema Wisner, in his presentation clarified that unlike in the past, his Ministry is now processing IPD within three days. He disclosed that staff of his ministry has resulted to calling on applicants to receive their IPDs because the documents are being stock-piled there for days.

Some of the participants accused the pre-shipment company, BIVAC, of over-charging importers and delayed inspection process while at the same time refusing to accept Liberian dollars as fees from importers.

However, in his reaction, the Managing Director of BIVAC, Kim Leneveu, who earlier outlined the work of his institution, said every activity being conducted by his organization is in line with the agreement between his organization and the government of Liberia.

Buttressing his comment, the Minister of Commerce and Industry Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh noted that he doesn't believe that BIVAC is acting on its own; saying this is why all actors are being brought together assuring that any issue(s) identify as obstacle will be addressed even if it calls for legal amendment.

In her presentation, the Commercial Officer of APM Terminals, Marlene Peterson, presented a documentary on the activities of the company since it begins operations in Liberia.

She demonstrated in a power point presentation showing the dilapidated facilities of the Free Port of Monrovia prior its contract with government, and the now improved facilities and how the facilities will look by the end of its 25 years contract.

However, other port users accused the company of giving them limited time of five days to clear their containers, saying the five days which include Holidays and Sundays posed serious financial constraints on importers.

They recommended that either the five days be increased to seven or ten, or the five days should be void of Holidays and Sundays.

The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) which was represented by Commissioner Decontee King-Sackie explained the legal intricacies involved in the collection of lawful taxes and said the LRA was working closely with all collaborating partners organizations to ensure that no one contravene the laws on the book.

For her part, the Acting Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA) Cecelia Cuffey- Brown said her institution role is to work with all companies operating in the Free Port to conduct trade and the clearing of goods without hindrance. She noted that operating agencies especially government assigned personnel must work cohesively in executing their respective functions.

Mrs. Brown however observed that there are people and institutions that are bent on causing problems at the Free Port, but did not elaborate. She however vowed to correct any dubious actions and expose trouble makers.

The stakeholders at the one-day meeting later drafted a resolution harmonizing issues and activities within their respective organizations which users of their services at the Free Port of Monrovia believed are squarely responsible for the barriers in the processes leading to the importation and clearing of goods and other items from the Free Port of Monrovia.

She however revealed that the APM Terminals was coming on terms with the Government of Liberia following the latest meeting between the NPA management and owners of APM Terminals in Dubai recently.

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