LAGOS – Some importers in Lagos were on Tuesday accused of diverting over 150 shiploads of rice to ports in Benin Republic, Cameroon, Accra and Togo.
Princess Vicky Haastrup, Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), made this known to newsmen in Lagos.
According to her, Nigeria lost about 600,000 metric tonnes of rice between January and March 2014 to neighbouring ports due to government’s 110 per cent duty on rice.
“This is becoming rather unfortunate. Our economy is bleeding because of this policy. The loss to other countries as a result of the high tariff on rice was over N300 billion in 2013.
“In the first quarter of this year alone, both government and private operators have lost at least N80 billion.
“Even the Federal Government, through the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, admitted the shortcoming of this policy.
“The truth is that the policy has done more harm than good to our economy and government should waste no further time before reversing it,’’ Haastrup said.
She said that the revenues affected by the 110 per cent rice policy included those of the Nigeria Customs Service, terminal operators, dock workers and the Nigerian Ports Authority.
Haastrup absolved the Customs for the high rate of smuggling of rice into Nigeria.
“It is wrong to blame Customs because it is doing its very best under the circumstance to check smuggling of rice into the country and that can be seen from the numerous seizures daily.’’
She said that smuggling would continue even if heavily armed officers were placed everywhere, since the local production was a far cry from the demand.
“There is a lot of pressure on Customs because the quantity of rice manufactured locally can only satisfy 30 per cent of local demand.
`Don’t forget that our neighbouring countries are profiting from the policy by dropping their own tariffs on rice and because they are benefitting; they are supporting these smugglers,’’ Haastrup said.
She said the 110 per cent policy would not encourage local production, but rather stifle it due to the high rate of smuggling.
The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had in March, said the Federal Government was contemplating a downward review of tariff on imported rice.
Okonjo-Iweala, who disclosed this while answering questions at the ‘Budget 2014 Jam’ in Abuja, said that a drop in tariff would reduce smuggling of the commodity into the country.
She said that the existing 110 per cent duty on the importation of rice was encouraging smuggling of the commodity into the country.
The minister said that Nigeria was able to grow 1.1 million tonnes of rice following the introduction of the 110 per cent duty on the community.
She, however, said that the policy encouraged smuggling of rice into Nigeria because neighbouring countries had dropped their tariffs to 10 per cent.
“For rice, we decided to bring it down because we see that it is not working,” she said. (NAN)