LAGOS- The Norwegian Seafood Council and stockfish stakeholders have stressed the need for the Federal Government to delist stockfish from the list of items banned from accessing foreign exchange from the official window.
They made the call at a one-day interactive workshop with regulatory authorities in Nigerian stockfish and seafood imports on Wednesday in Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) listed pelagic fish and stockfish among 44 items not eligible for foreign exchange (forex) window.
Mr Trond Kostveit, Director Africa, Norwegian Seafood Council, urged the Federal Government to reconsider the removal of stockfish from the list to promote ease of doing business.
“We started the process three years ago to see if it is possible to delist stockfish from foreign exchange ban because there are many good arguments why the product should not be on the list.
“The forex ban has made the price of stockfish in local markets quite expensive, especially for consumers.
“The cost of getting forex at the parallel market is taking a toll on stockfish imports. For consumers, stockfish heads are the only source of proteins.
“It will be very beneficial if we can get access to the official exchange rate and thereby, reduce the cost of the fish for consumers,’’ Kostveit said.
He noted that Norway was not competing with any Nigeria local fish species.
“We understand the ban is made to promote local aquaculture production but the product is not a threat to Nigerian aquaculture.
“When we tried to say that stockfish has become such an important part of the Nigerian diets and it is very important, that we make it cheaper.
“So, we will continue this appeal and hopefully, we can see that soon it is possible to delist stockfish from the foreign exchange ban,” he said.
Mrs Abbey Cheke, Consultant, Norwegian Seafood Council, said that the council would continue to promote aquaculture until the government intervene on the ban.
Cheke reiterated that stockfish was not competing with Nigeria fish by any standard hence, the need to delist it from the forex ban list.
“We understand the need to promote development of non-oil sectors in Nigeria, and we will continue to seek areas of assistance and collaboration for aquaculture sector.
“Stockfish is the cheapest source of protein in this country, we are praying for its delisting from foreign exchange ban because Nigeria does not import more than 10,000 tonnes yearly.
“At the Norwegian Seafood Council, we are also doing a lot of Corporate Social Responsibility locally to assist Nigeria step out of mono oil exports.
“We are assisting Nigeria to get aquaculture produce like tilapia and catfish unbanned from the European markets and other international markets in the U.S,” she said.
However, a regulator, Mr James Umoru, Deputy Director, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the government was not insensitive to the appeals but would continue to work for the entire good of the country.
“What the government has made as a policy, we have to adhere to it. The government has deemed it fit to make the policy because it seems stockfish importation is taking a lot of its forex.
“That decision I believe is taken in the best interest of the nation. The government is aware of the appeal the importers and stakeholders are making.
“The government is sensitive to the appeal and all efforts are being addressed. Collaborations and consultations are ongoing.
“The decision to ban is not taken today; so, the fisheries department and the ministry will continue to collaborate with all relevant stakeholders to see how to make the business environment conducive for everybody,” Umoru said.
An importer, Mr Stephen Eze, the Chairman, Aborigine Stockfish Sellers Association, said that delisting the product from the forex ban would benefit everybody.
Eze said that members of the association would be glad if stockfish was removed from the forex ban as it was an important business in the Nigerian economy.
“Currently, it costs a lot to import stockfish into the country. It is a very vital part of Nigerian cuisine and major source of local protein,’’ he noted.
The chairman said that if stockfish could be removed from the ban, it would help reduce the cost of the product in the country. (NAN)