Despite the resentment expressed by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, to the implementation of the cargo tracking note, CTN, or advance cargo declaration scheme by the Nigerian Shippers Council, it does appear that the mainstream of the importing public are in support of the scheme.
For an Agency which less than a year ago secured a landmark financial “reparation” for the trading community in Nigeria, worth billions of dollars, in a proven case of exploitation by shipping lines operating in the country, should every genuine shipper or importer therefore not stand with the Nigerian Shippers Council on this CTN issue, which seeks to enthrone transparency and equity in the system.
The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on17 December 2014, not only affirm the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) as port economic regulator for the maritime industry, the Court ruled that the Council enjoys the prerogative to intervene on issues relating to service offering and pricing in the port industry. What is equally instructive is the decision by the same Court that the Shipping Line Agency Charge (SLAC) levied by the shipping lines since 2009 is wrong and illegal, that its collection should be stopped forthwith. The Court ruled that the shipping companies refund the billions of dollars illegally collected under the SLAC to Nigerian shippers. The development was unprecedented.
As the economic regulator for the port industry in Nigeria, the Council is expected to work towards the improvement of the country’s maritime trade, introduce measures that will prevent unfair methods of competition (anti-trust) by service provides and other illicit trade practices
That the Nigerian Shippers Council was able to record this feat less than a year after being appointed an economic regulator in February 2014, is indicative that the Agency is under a focused and result driven leadership, which should be supported.
The advent of National Shippers Councils towards the end of the last century on the recommendation of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) was to solve the problem of sea trade imbalances between the wealthy carrier nations and the less developed economies mainly in Africa, Caribbean/Pacific, Middle East and the Asian subcontinent. These Shippers’ Councils were set up primarily to monitor freight rates and advise their governments accordingly, so that shippers are not exploited by the shipping lines. These Councils derived statistical information from the Attestations de Réservation de Cale (ARC) or Loading Certificate, however with the emergence of strong privately owned liners; this source of shipping data was no longer available.
The private shipping lines transformed into global cartels, operating as conferences with little or no restriction. The National Shippers Councils gradually lost relevance. However the story changed after the events of 11 September 2001. Led by the United States, countries across the world increased the prerequisite measures and processes for cargo data, in order to strengthen ships and port security. Using the platform of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the US Government was able to influence the adoption of the ISPS Code as part of the global maritime security architecture.
The ISPS Code was made obligatory by inserting it as a chapter under the SOLAS Convention and all IMO member countries became signatories.
Aside placing an obligation on a member country to ensure effective protection of the port area, countries are expected to organize data processing on all shipments and on all vessels to a final destination, this is where the CTN scheme comes in. Thus, the information processed will be transmitted to the port of destination prior to the arrival of the shipment, where it is used to initiate an analysis of the cargo, define a security level for the vessel prior to its arrival, as well as facilitate the customs valuation of the goods.
Basically, the shipper provides the required information on the goods to be shipped at a particular port to a designated agent. The carrier checks that the shipment is covered by a CTN number before transporting; the Port Authority checks the details and the statistics to eliminate any threat to the safety of lives and port facilities. CTN enhances the capacity of the border agencies to render accounts and collect optimal revenue for the government.
Today, the CTN scheme or its variant is being implemented in many African countries (including our “sister” ports in Lome and Cotonou), countries under the European Union, Asia, Middle East and United States.
The revised scheme is based on a Web platform (Electronic Cargo Tracking Note) that allows relevant trade agencies (Shippers Council, Port and Customs authorities, etc.) to access the data and documents in real time from their offices. Aside stating the type and value of the goods being transported, the CTN provides the cost of freight for the shipment. With such information, cargo nations are able to check any arbitrariness or exploitation of their shippers by the international carriers and their local agents.
Countries like Nigeria without ocean-going fleet have for many years been at the mercy of the international shipping lines. Our shippers are made to pay all manner of surcharges (Congestion, CAF, BAF, Rate Restoration etc.), which they willing pay since all of these surcharges are lumped up under “freight payable”.
Accusations of corruption pervade the shipping and forwarding industry globally. Recently the Russia’s antitrust authority, Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), initiated administrative proceedings against two of the world’s leading lines – CMA CGM and Maersk Line, after accusing the two of failing to provide documents requested as part of an investigation into alleged price collusion. According to the FAS, “ocean container shipments have a significant impact on the development of international trade. The cost of such transport is a significant share in the price of goods and price collusion in this market can have an extremely negative impact on the global economy as well as on the economy of individual states”.
The Advance Cargo Declaration scheme being promoted by the Council is designed to help reduce significantly the stifling bureaucracy at the port terminals and land borders, despite the “huge” investments in infrastructure and ICT. Going by the last survey sponsored by the World Bank (Doing Business 2016 Data for Nigeria), border compliance for imports into Nigeria takes on the average 12days at a cost of USD1,077. The average for sub-Saharan Africa is 6.5 days at a cost of USD643. For documentary compliance, average time in Nigeria is 7 days at a cost of USD564. For sub-Saharan Africa, average time for documentary compliance is 5 days at a cost of USD351. These costs are outside the “freight payable” charged by the carrier, which could be between USD3000 and USD5000 per TEU depending on the type of good and from which part of the world the ship is sailing from.
Just as the World Bank study has confirmed, the high cost of doing business at the nation’s gateways is fueled majorly by red tape and corruption. These are the leading factors responsible for the low competitiveness of the port industry in Nigeria, even by African standard!
The CTN scheme has been running in many countries as a trade facilitation tool and also to improve security of shipments, inward and outward. Worthy of mention is that a revised version of the IMO Convention on the Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL) is set to be adopted in April 2016. It will include an important new standard relating to the obligation of public authorities to establish systems to exchange arrival and departure information electronically when ships enter or leave port.
I therefore share in the optimism of most members of the trading community that the CTN scheme as being implemented by the Nigerian Shippers Council is the way to go, it will enhance the clearance process and ultimately bring down the cost of doing business in our ports to the advantage of Nigerian shippers and the national economy at large.

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