The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Sunday canvassed the need for the Federal Government to create an independent dispute resolution framework to manage conflicts between the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the business community.
The Director-General of LCCI, Dr Muda Yusuf, in a statement maintained that the presidential intervention had become inevitable, especially with the commencement of the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
According to him, the disputes will be mainly on matters of product valuation and harmonized system of product classification as experienced and reported by investors in the Nigerian economy.
The Director General noted that a major shortcoming in the nation’s international trade process was the absence of an independent, credible and prompt appeal mechanism, stressing that the lack
is undermining investment efforts and weakening investors’ confidence in the economy.
The industrial sector expert lamented that the current realities of the absence of a credible, independent window for dispute settlement between the Service and the private sector had left importers entirely at the mercies of the Customs Service.
In addition, Yusuf explained that discretionary interpretations on product classification and valuation posed corruption risks in Customs processes that should frontally addressed.
He clarified: “The LCCI calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene by setting up an Independent Appeal Mechanism to deal with issues of valuation and HS classification between the Nigeria Customs Service and the Business community.
“This could be done within the framework of an Executive Order as this is necessary to restore the confidence of investors in the international trade process.
“There is need to ensure a balance between regulatory controls, revenue generation and trade facilitation functions of the Nigeria Customs Service,’’ Yusuf said.
Noting that under the present arrangement, the Customs Service is the accuser and the judge, the LCCI boss described the arrangement as unfair to investors and not consistent with the principles of natural justice.
He expatiated: “Many companies have been compelled to pay outrageous additional charges on imports, thus distorting their investment plans and projections.
“Indeed, the biggest corruption risks in the interface between the Customs and the business community are around these two issues.
“This situation is hurting investors across all sectors – Manufacturing, Agro-allied, ICT, Construction, Services etc.
“It is a disincentive to domestic and foreign investments; it creates uncertainty and aggravates investment risk; it undermines economic diversification prospects; depresses capacity utilisation; and limits the scope for job creation.
“It is also not consistent with the vision to make Nigeria a top investment destination”, Yusuf added.