The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) yesterday urged 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 made available to newsmen in Lagos, said a presidential intervention had become inevitable, especially with the onset of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Yusuf said the disputes were on matters of product valuation and harmonised system of product classification as experienced and reported by investors in the Nigerian economy.
He said that a major shortcoming in the nation’s international trade process was the absence of an independent, credible and prompt appeal mechanism.
According to him, the lack thereof, presents a situation that is hurting to investment and weakening investors’ confidence.
The LCCI boss said the current realities left importers entirely at the mercies of the Customs Service in the absence of a credible, independent window for dispute settlement between the Service and the private sector.
He said that discretionary interpretations on product classification and valuation posed enormous corruption risks in Customs processes.
“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.
According to him, under the present arrangement, the Customs Service is the accuser and the judge and this mechanism is unfair to investors and not consistent with the principles of natural justice.
“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,” he said.