Lack of access to foreign exchange stalls imports, exports
‘Shipping may suffer lull after coronavirus’
Import and export of goods in the country will soon suffer a major setback if the Federal Government does not urgently address the issue of scarcity of foreign exchange that has confronted importers in recent times.
The Guardian learnt that export of goods was almost collapsing while fresh imports and other financial obligations of shipping companies and terminal operators that require forex have been completely stalled, as banks continue to operate skeletal services, which exclude forex trading.
Some bank officials confirmed that their operations do not cover foreign exchange transactions, as they only deal in deposits, withdrawals, transfers and few others.
Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, told The Guardian that shippers do not presently have access to foreign exchange for imports and exports purposes.
He added that shipping companies and terminal operators were also unable to meet their financial obligations to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) due to their inability to access forex.
To support international trade, port operations and ensure unhindered port services, Bello said banks should open more branches within the port area to receive duty payments, confirm payments for bank drafts, as well as online transfers and provide foreign exchange to shippers, shipping line agents and terminals.
He said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should direct banks to provide forex exchange to shipping companies to enable them to fulfill their financial obligations to government agencies.
A bank customer confirmed that the banks were not doing foreign exchange at the moment, because of the lockdown, saying, “We are only open to skeletal services. Meanwhile, our Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are open for customers to get cash. We are also offering loans of up to N50,000 to customers to cushion the effect of the lockdown on their financial commitments.”
President of the Shippers Association of Lagos State, (SALS), Jonathan Nicol, said the lockdown has compelled CBN and the banks to restrict operation, which is making it difficult to get foreign exchange from the official platforms.
He said, “Without foreign exchange, people cannot place Form M and without Form M they cannot place orders and this will have a ripple effect on the economy.” Nicol stressed that the implication is that there would be a lull in shipping by the third or fourth quarter of the year, even when the COVID-19 pandemic must have ended.