The last may still be far from being heard about rice import and the wisdom behind the increase in the tariff on the imported item from 60 to 110 percent by the Federal Government.
The House Committee on Customs had recently summoned the Minister of Finance and coordinating minister for the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,
Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga and the Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina to explain the reported N300 billion revenue loss to the country as a result of the 110 per cent duty slammed on the imported commodity.
The law makers were especially worried that neighbouring countries, particularly Cameroon and Benin Republic, have capitalized on the policy to generate more revenue by slashing their tariff on the commodity in order to lure Nigerian importers to use their ports for the importation of the staple food item and to encourage smuggling of the item into Nigeria.
The Customs Committee Chairman, Sabo Mohammed Na kudu, was said to be particularly aghast that not only had the idea of hiking the tariff failed, those who muted the idea at the Ministry of Finance had also failed to see the need for a quick reversal, thereby further prolonging the huge revenue loss.
“The Chairman asked the three Ministers to publicly address the Committee during a public hearing”, a member of the Committee spoke in confidence, pointing out that while the law makers were yet to see any wisdom in the action, there was still a need for fair hearing from the key actors.
Although the Finance minister acknowledged the revenue loss to the country was as a result of the rice policy, her counterpart from the ministry of Agriculture,
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina told the legislators that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) should be blamed for the revenue loss to the country as a result of the policy since 2012 when importers reportedly threw all cautions to the winds in the alleged attempt to subvert the law.
Stressing that the policy was introduced with good intention, Adesina argued that it was because the Customs failed to effectively police the borders that the Law makers, government disagree over tariff hike on rice products policy was subverted by rice smugglers, who had since been having field -days, using neighbouring ports.
“The NCS must do its job of policing the borders, while my job is to encourage local farming of rice. The rice that is being smuggled is not carried on the head or brought in by ghosts. The rice comes in trailers and in large quantities.
“Our target is that we should have enough rice to feed our people and ultimately become a net exporter of rice,” he stated, advising against placing emphasis on revenue loss by the Customs and losing sight of what he called the “real intentions of the policy, which is to promote growth, create job opportunities and reduce poverty.”
SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL TRADE MONITOR