The Nigerian Shippers Council, commercial regulator of the nation’s seaports has commenced talks with the global container shipping giant, Maersk as part of efforts to enhance trade facilitation in the country.

Executive Secretary/CEO of the council, Barrister Hassan Bello, who spoke in an exclusive interview, disclosed that the council was already in talks with Maerk, which singly accounts for over 55 per cent of the container shipments into the country in order to review current trends in the industry, especially the decline in cargo throughput in most of the seaports in the country occasioned by the dwindling economic fortunes in the country.

The Federal Government had following the dwindling economic fortunes in the country banned the importation of certain products and also introduced a discriminatory foreign exchange policy, which barred about 41 items of import including raw materials from accessing foreign exchange from only through the parallel market, which is higher.

Bello noted that as a regulator, the primary function of the council is to provide an enabling environment for the private sector to operate, insisting that what the Federal Government needed do was to take steps to boost export cargo so the ports would not be only driven by import cargo in line with efforts to diversify the economy.

He said: “Three issues featured in our discussions, first is the issue of creating a platform to discuss current issues in Nigeria’s port industry in relation to the economic conditions. Secondly, we also discussed tariffs and general cost of doing business at the ports and thirdly is the solution to these economic challenges and the issue of dispute resolution”.

“I can tell you the meetings have been quite fruitful and we have over the years enjoyed the support and cooperation of some of these shipping companies, especially members of Shipping Association of Nigeria SAN, and even Maersk. We are committed to creating a conducive economic environment for their business to thrive”

Bello argued that when such businesses thrive, it will have a multiplier effect on Nigeria’s economy in terms of job creation, the private sector operators would invest more in modern transport infrastructure, which will enhance modern traffic management and other sundry benefit such as creation of modern truck parks, among others.

It was gathered that apart from the inaugural meeting held at the council’s headquarters in Apapa during the NSC-boss called on the management of Maersk to support Nigeria’s aspiration of being a hub seaport within the West and Central African sub-region, both parties have also met for twice to streamline all the issues.

On the request by the council that the container shipping giant should assist Nigeria in achieving her hub port status for the sub-regional market, Bello disclosed that the efforts were already yielding positive results.

He disclosed that two companies from the Republic of Niger have already indicated their interest in routing their transhipment import and export cargo through Nigeria’s seaports, which is a step towards the attainment of hub port status.

Recall that importers and exporters from this and other land-locked African countries were before now transhipping their consignments through Nigeria’s seaports but had to discontinue following the completion of the port concession programme, as the concessionaires insisted that they would be billed on commercial rates for such services.

Bello disclosed that the council has created a platform for the transhipment cargo owners to meet with the port concessionaires in Nigeria to discuss common issues such as tariffs, volumes of cargo and even the possibility of establishing dedicated transhipment sheds at the various terminals.

It was also gathered that the council is also holding talks with the representatives of the Shippers Council of the Republic of Niger to discuss and harmonise all sundry issues to forestall possible hindrance to the smooth takeoff of the cargo transhipment once again.

Investigations further showed that the council is currently partnering the Nigerian Ports Authority with a view to bringing back all the transhipment cargo to Nigeria not only from Niger Republic but also from many other African countries.

In line with this objective, the Nigerian Shippers Council and NPA are currently concluding plans to embark on a trade mission to some of the African countries including Niger Republic, which will be followed by a similar trade mission by representatives to enable them inspect port facilities in Nigeria located in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar.