Air cargo bureaucracy, charges stifle $250bn agro-export industry

•Only five out of 16 charges are official, says NCAA

Despite efforts of the Federal Government in trade promotion, there is no ease of doing business in the export end of local aviation.

This is as bureaucratic bottlenecks and multiple charges that are levied by diverse government agencies have been identified as major barriers against potential exporters and impediment to the non-oil revenue worth $250 billion a year.

The apex regulatory body, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), lent credence to the constraints, saying there are a total of 16 sundry charges currently tolled on exports, out of which only five have official receipts.

Stakeholders, who met at the just concluded Aviation and Cargo Conference and Exhibition (CHINET 21) in Lagos, said there is huge revenue potential in non-oil exports that the stifling business environment and official corruption militate against.

Cargo exporter and Chief Executive Officer of ABX World, Capt. John Okakpu, said a proper adherence to export market requirements, vis-à-vis local produce potential, has the capacity to rake in $250 billion in agro export commodities alone.

Okakpu said, unfortunately, Nigeria is not playing in the global exporting space, but merely “hawking” in bits and pieces for years.

He said the challenges account for the current 85 to 15 per cent import to export ratio in the country, and “why cargo airplanes are leaving the country empty.”

He said not only are the charges numerous, they are also too expensive to encourage patronage.
“Besides the multiplication of agencies and regulatory departments at the exit points, the government’s fees and taxes are about 90 per cent higher than our nearest competitor. So in most cases, it is cheaper for most freighter aircraft to depart from Nigeria empty than carry available cargo.

“Similarly, exporters in Nigeria continue to rely on our own bogus documentation and certifications standards, which are mostly not recognised anywhere in the world. The first step in engaging in export is to identify, properly analyse and conform to the requirements of the proposed importing countries. Thus, the exporter has to provide the commodities needed to foreign country’s satisfaction and documentation. Then, a seamless export can be carried out.

“But here, some people are of the erroneous belief that proper packaging or a Trade and Bilateral Agreement between two countries guarantees free-flow of agro-products. It doesn’t work that way. We need to tackle the bottlenecks head-on, have a system that is committed to growth and properly reorient our people about standard practice in exporting.”

Director General of the NCAA, represented by Group Capt. Edem Eyo-Ita, said the one-too-many handling charges pose the main constraint to cargo in local aviation.

Eyo-Ita said it was regrettable that only one local airline operates in the freight sub-sector to date, despite emerging opportunities in cargo services in the pandemic age.

He said having up to 16 different charges, out of which only five are official, is discouraging and should be tackled by improved collaboration by all stakeholders.

Eyo-Ita added that regulatory support for the growth of air cargo is on the way with the new NCAA Bill awaiting approval at the National Assembly.

Director of Product Development at the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), William Ezeagu, said efforts were at an advanced stage to set up a Domestic Export Warehouse and Aggregate Centre, as a one-stop shop for all non-oil produce.

Ezeagu said the centre would harmonise activities and certification requirements of diverse agencies, as well as ensure quality assurance for seamless export to destinations.

Managing Director of Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc, Tokunbo Fagbemi, said besides the multiple agencies that have turned export warehouses to “Oshodi marketplace”, exporters also need to pay attention to packaging for acceptance overseas.

Her counterpart at SAHCO Plc, Basil Agboruami, urged the government to encourage more investments in the ground handling business, as they need more room to expand their activities at the airport.

He appealed for more infrastructure at the airports, as well as restoring sanity to the cargo area due to the influx of people “who have no business in the area”.

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