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‘Port, rail integration will drive free trade in West Africa’

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[FILE PHOTO] Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman

Until both rail and port services across West Africa are fully integrated, the region may not maximise the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

International transport experts and participants unanimously said this yesterday, at the opening of the West African Port and Rail Evolution Forum, in Lagos, urging Nigeria and its West African neighbours to synergise essential services across the region for economic development.

Managing Director, Port Autonome de Cotonou, Joris Albert Thys, said the African region has a lot to learn from the experience of Europe to enhance free movement of goods and services.

Thys, who is one of the panelists that discussed the topic: ‘A road map to delivering efficient, sustainable cross border transport’, said the European Union (EU) was created for free movement of goods and services, people and capital, as part of the plans to develop the region at the end of the World War II.

“Every country was looking at what they could do well, but they needed efficient transport infrastructure to move them around. Connectivity at all levels is important, and West Africa must ensure this in the implementation of the AfCFTA,” Thys said.

Managing Director of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, noted that the volume of trade among African countries is still not commensurate to the potential that abound in the region.

But to enhance trade facilitation, Usman said the region must begin to ensure that relevant government agencies work in line with the integrative vision, and tackle bureaucracies across the countries.

“We need to cut down on red tapes. We don’t need to fill 50 forms just to move our goods from one country to another. So, besides the need to develop infrastructure, we must begin to tackle bureaucracies.

“Also, we must improve on intermodal transportation. Rail and port must be linked and should be developed together. As much as you get all the Chinese loans for rail, you also need to develop the ports through which the cargoes only get to the rail. Our dry ports need to be operational and run efficiently,” she said.


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