The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) since its establishment in Lagos on May 25, 1975 has embarked on different integration schemes to foster cooperation and development among member states; the most important among all is the Free Movement Protocol Agreement.
The organization consist of fifteen members including: Burkina-Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Togo, Mali, Benin, Sénégal, Côte D’Ivoire (CFA countries), Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Cabo Verde and, Liberia.
In recent times, the Nigerian Shippers Council has been on the vanguard of implementing the Free Movement Protocol Agreement.
Essentially, the agreement specifically entails free movement of goods and people of member states across international borders. The main aim of the treaty is also to boost economic activities, including agriculture, import and export of member states.
Speaking with Nigeriamaritime360.com, Director of Consumer Affairs Department of Nigeria Shippers Council, Chief Carjetan Agu said the major objective and function of the department is trade facilitation and stakeholders engagement.
He said the Council is now collaborating with Boderless Alliance; an international agency, in order to encourage trade between Nigeria and other West African countries in line with ECOWAS protocol agreement.
He said that most Nigerian traders are not conversant with the ECOWAS protocol agreement.
Precisely on the 14th of March 2019, the department at shippers Council in alliance with Borderless Alliance organised an awareness clinic and seminar meant for port agencies and cross border traders on the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) handbook.
The handbook according to Chief Agu captures all the processes and procedures for the exportation or importation of selected cereals in West and Central Africa, some of them include maize, millet, Cassava, among others.
“The seminar took place here in our office in Apapa Lagos. The purpose was to ensure that people involved in cross border trade are acquainted with the processes, procedures and guidelines so that they don’t fall foul of the game”
“We are making efforts and engaging with critical stakeholders within the sector on how all of us can synergize and tackle some of the challenges in the port and shipping sector. To achieve this, we are starting with the Shippers, we are lining up some clinics for Shippers, especially those within the Lagos metropolis”
“There are many importers in Alaba market in Ojo, Aspanda Market in Orile, but these people do not know what is happening in the sector, they normally interface with their clearing agents.
We want to take the awareness to the grassroot, so we are planning to execute some enlightenment clinics at Alabama and Aspanda markets for a start”
The purpose of the sensitization according to him is to gather the shippers, major importers and exporters together and enlighten them on their rights and responsibilities in shipping trade.
The clinic is also to enlighten the traders on some of the complaints handling procedures, especially with the port agencies.
He said “As an importer, you don’t need to be afraid of the customs or the Quarantine service, they are supposed to help you in your business, we are going to bridge that gap by bringing the Customs and the traders together, we also bridge the gap between the traders and the quarantine, SON and NAFDAC so that the traders can know that everyone are partners in progress, the bottom line is to ensure growth in our national economy and reduce the cost of goods and services which can only be done through synergy”
The Protocol is lacking full implementation by member states till today because of the perceived problems it poses to their national security.
The minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe said recently that the ECOWAS protocol agreement is being abused.
According to him, the abuse of the treaty had promoted smuggling of agricultural products, particularly grains; thereby sabotaging the Federal Government’s plans to ensure attainment of self-sufficiency in the production of rice and other produce.
Meanwhile, Chief Agu also told our correspondent that recently, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) is collaborating with the Nigerian Shippers Council to ensure that informal trade in the West African subregion is formalised.
He disclosed that UNECA is carrying out a survey in the Lagos- Abidjan corridor, with the aim of coming up with a reliable data capturing format of trade that takes place within the corridor.
“The exercise started exactly on 28th and 29th of March, UNECA sent a team to commence the collection of data at border formations within the corridor, such as the Seme Krake corridor, Benin Togo corridor, Togo Ghana and Ghana Cote de Ivore border”
“For now, they have concluded the survey on three corridors, those of Nigeria Benin Republic, BeninRepublic and Togo, and Togo Ghana, the remaining one is Ghana Cote de Ivore”
“The exercise was successfully carried out and Shippers Council equally provided support to the UNECA team to ensure that the exercise was carried out” he said
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