James Emejo writes that the federal government has a rare privilege to frontally address the recurrent problem of agricultural export rejection by the European Union and other international partners to boost non-oil exports, earn foreign exchange and aid economic diversification as well as solve the socio-economic challenges facing the country.
The rejection of Nigeria’s agricultural exports in the international market particularly the European Union, the United States and other trade partners has continued to linger for over a decade with no end in sight.
Aware of the urgent need to diversify the base of the Nigerian economy from the vagaries of crude oil, the federal government has reeled out policy interventions targeted at reforming the non-oil export in recent times.
Some of these reforms have also focused on the ease of doing business, including removing obstacles such as bureaucracies in business registration processes and reforming ports activities among others.
But there are other pressing challenges in the non-oil exports sector – the inability of Nigerian entrepreneurs to export raw and semi-finished products to the global market.
Trend of Rejections
Last year, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) lamented that over 76 per cent of Nigeria’s exported agricultural commodities are often rejected by the EU for not meeting required standards.
Earlier in January this year, the Shippers Association of Lagos (SALS) also said 82 per cent of the country’s exported agro-allied products are either seized or rejected in Europe.
The development has continued to unsettle the federal government and its relevant agencies in charge of export facilitation and promotion.
This is because the government’s efforts to diversify the economy as well as solve the persistent foreign exchange challenges emanating from oil price volatility will be in shambles if Nigerian businesses continue to find it difficult to export their wares.
Triggers of Rejection
Various reasons have been adduced for the jettisoning of Nigerians’ exports especially agricultural produce in the international market, ranging from standardisation limitations, unapproved chemical compositions in produce, and low quality among others.
The resultant rejection often resulted in huge economic losses to the individual exporters and the country in general as lack of storage facilities, logistics among other constraints ensured that the rejected products are wasted.
Following the distasteful development, the federal government had over the years expressed its commitment to tackling the rejection crisis but with little or no progress up till now, Nigerian exporters still lament the rejection of their wares abroad.
As far back as 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, while frowning at the mass rejection of goods exported to Europe and the United States, expressed its readiness to put the issue to rest.
The then minister of industry, trade and investment assured that the government was addressing the issue through various mechanisms, adding that it had commenced serious engagements with international trade partners to address the factors leading to the rejection of goods from the country.
Also, last year, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar, and stakeholders in the sector debated how to limit the rejection of the country’s agricultural commodities in their international market particularly the EU.
The minister recognised the fact that adding value to agricultural exports would ensure that Buhari’s vision of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty was actualised.
Despite all the past assurances, however, the challenges surrounding export rejection persist.
Light at the End of the Tunnels?
However, despite the failure of the government in the recent past to fix the nagging issue, there appeared to be a renewed commitment by the government toward ensuring a definite end to export rejection going forward.
Only last week, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) announced it was leading an Inter-Agency team to the United Kingdom (UK) as part of a strategic effort to address the issue which constitutes a major constraint to the growth of the non-oil export sector.
Among the agencies participating in the fact-finding mission are, NAFDAC, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO), Skypower Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) Federal Produce Inspection Service (FPIS) and Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN).
The Executive Director/Chief Executive of NEPC, Dr Ezra Yakusak, who led the team lamented that these cases of rejection had resulted in a stricter inspection regime on Nigerian exports in the importing countries and some cases led to the suspension or ban of some products.
He said, “It also attracts unfavourable international media attention, gives the country a negative image as well as constitutes a financial burden to the exporters who have to bear the cost of either reshipping the banned product to Nigeria or destroying the product”.
The objective of the five-day visit is to provide Nigerian export-regulatory and facilitating agencies the opportunity of observing the processes of agricultural commodities import procedures and interface with Port Health and Food Import Regulatory Agencies at the Border Control Points (BCPs) in the UK.
Other areas to be visited by the team are, Southampton Port (the second busiest port in the UK), Spitalfield Market – a one-stop aggregation and distribution centre for imported food in the UK as well as the Food Standards Agency (FDA), the parliament among others.
During the visit, the team also held an interactive session with some Nigerian food importers in the UK as part of an effort to address the challenges encountered in importing food items from Nigeria to the UK.
Also, worried about export rejection, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Niyi Adebayo recently inaugurated a Technical Committee to address the incidences of export rejection to proffer solutions to the problem.
Yakutsk, while providing THISDAY with a further update on the visit to the UK, said the mission provided NEPC and other regulatory/facilitating agencies the opportunity of observing the processes of agricultural commodities import procedures and enabled them to interact with Port Health and Food Import Regulatory Agencies at the Border Control Posts (BCPs) in the UK.
He said apart from identifying the causes of rejection of imported commodities from Nigeria, the mission also served as a platform to interact with Nigerians in the UK and avail them of the export opportunities in Nigeria.
The mission commenced an interactive session with Nigerian food importers based in the UK as the session provided a platform to interface with the importers where they aired the challenges encountered in importing food items from Nigeria to the UK.
NEPC and the supporting agencies responded to the questions and mentioned new initiatives like DEW, ETH, and collaboration with NAHCO to ease export of fruit vegetable logistics constraints among others.
The delegation also visited the Food Standards Agency (FSA) the major food import regulatory in the UK and was taken through the process and steps of food imports and emphasis was placed on compliance with regulation, he said.
Yakusak, said the session provided a clear insight into the real causes of export rejects from Nigeria, pointing out that contrary to news in the Nigerian media space about the numbers of agricultural produce/products banned from import to the UK/EU, the FSA emphasised that only dried beans are banned for import while sesame seed and melon seeds are under tight scrutiny due to presence of contaminants but are allowed for import.
Furthermore, the NEPC boss said the Products of Animal and Animal Origins (POAOs) like smoked fish can be imported but must be from approved facilities and accompanied by necessary competent authority health certificates and other supporting documents.
The inter-agency mission which also visited the Southampton port which is the second busiest port in the UK, further learned the process of food import inspection, documentation check, and assay checks, among others, lessons that would surely come in handy in repositioning non-oil drive back home.
According to Yakusak, presentations by the FSA and the Port Health further deepen the know-how of the Nigerian delegates on food import procedures at the UK BCPs.
No doubt, if the outcomes of the fact-finding mission to the UK are well implemented, the age-long issues of export rejection would be a thing of the past.