Amid news of a planned boycott action, beginning Tuesday, March 5, against the National Port Authority (NPA) by the business community led by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Wilson K. Tarpeh, on Friday, March 1, met with the Chamber and assured them of government's support in resolving the current impasse. The Minister, however, did not withhold his concern and disappointment of the boycott.
During the Friday meeting with officials of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce and the business community, the Minister said the public announcement of the planned boycott took him by surprise, forcing him to question his previous belief that the Government of Liberia and the business community were working together to find a common solution for everyone. Instead, he said, his understanding was to the contrary.
Minister Tarpeh told the gathering at the meeting that he has already spoken to various key companies and organizations within the private sector to fully understand the situation at hand and that, by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce calling for a boycott in the middle of negotiation, means it would like to close the door.
He assured both the LCC and the Business Community that the Government of Liberia is still interested in resolving the issue.
In response, the Chamber requested once again that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry "cease implementation of the Cargo Tracking Number (CTN) effective March 1, 2019 until all parties, including the Liberia Chamber of Commerce and the Government of Liberia/National Port Authority, can finalize negotiations".
At the end of the meeting, Minister Tarpeh assured the LCC and the Business Community of responding to their request on Monday, March 4, 2019.
Meanwhile, the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL) has distanced itself from the protest action, which is scheduled to take effect on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
The position taken by PATEL, an advocacy group representing the interest of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), comes barely just one day following the LCC's announcement that came out of a mass meeting in which PATEL itself was represented. Through the LCC, businesses across Liberia have unanimously agreed to boycott the NPA if the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN), a proposed service by the Global Tracking Maritime Solutions (GTMS) is allowed to take effect.
In a press statement against the boycott, PATEL Founder and National Chairman, Presley S. Tenwah, said: "We are no way in support of any unfounded protest organized by the LCC and therefore urge other business organizations not to adhere to any unfounded protest by the chambers of commerce.
"PATEL vehemently disagrees with any organization calling for unprecedented, untimely, and a politically motivated protest in the name of the organization. Furthermore, the Union is in close consultations with the government to mitigate any issues arising from the GTMS.
"We also reaffirm our commitment in supporting the government's Pro-Poor Agenda and the Cargo Tracking system," Mr. Tenwah said.
PATEL which appears to be the only trade organization in support of the GTMS deal, in a statement last month through its chairman Mr. Tenwah explained that the new system in question, unlike the old existing BIVAC, Commerce and ASYCUDA system, comes with a lot of advantages, including speeding up the merchandise removal process, saving time, reducing storage/warehousing or demurrage cost.
"The system will fight against any discriminatory pricing practice, which will contribute to the fight against fraud and enhance the improvement of customs. This system will ensure the overall increase in revenue generation to support our country's national budget and gradually de-risk containers and cargo security in our various ports," he added.
Since the inception of the CTN deal, the LCC has consistently voiced its disapproval, terming the deal as a "duplication of requirements that are already being complied with by the importers of cargoes into the country, and at the same time making shipping to Liberia more expensive for suppliers outside of the country, adding no value to export and import."