Nigeria: Government to Close Rice Importers’ Shop, If …

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FIVE companies have up till tomorrow to remit N36.56 billion to Federal Government’s treasury or face sanctions, a minister said yesterday.

The firms owe N36, 569,117,975.4, being preferential duty and levy on the tariff and levy on the 732,555.55 metric tons of rice they imported, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Akinwunmi Adesina said in Lagos.

The companies are: Popular Farm and Mills; Olam, Central Trading and Export; Conti-Agro and African Farms.

Akinwunmi, who at a session with journalists, accused rice importers of sabotaging the government’s policy.

But Olam Nigeria Limited said:  “there is clearly a misconception and mistake in the policy. These rice millers are sorting this misconception and mistake.”

Three other operators also spoke in the same vein.

He said the companies imported 508,653.55 metric tons of rice in excess of the 223,902 metric tons approved by the government.

The minister said the firms resorted to attacking the policy on rice and blackmail rather than respect the gentleman’s agreement they reached with the Nigerian Customs Service when they brought in their consignments.

His words: “Without waiting for determination of supply gap by the inter-ministerial committees or issuance of quotas, two Asian companies – Popular Farms and Mills, owned by Stallion Group and Ola -, had each imported 390,145.53 MT and 244,126.63MT respectively of polished rice as at December 3rdat the preferential duty of 10% and 20% levy, according to data from Nigerians Customs.

“These two companies together imported a total of 634,270.16MT of finished rice or 56% of the total imported finished rice under the new policy as at December 3rd, 2014.

“According to Customs, the importers agreed to pay any duty andn levy differential if their eventual quota allocation turned out to be lower than what they have imported.”

Akinwunmi said the government will not fold its arms and watch some foreign firms undermine its policy, which, according to him, has been designed to encourage local rice production and discourage importation.

The minister said: “Every company must follow the rules and there are no sacred cows. I will not allow them to scuttle our self-sufficiency drive in rice production. These two companies – Olam and Popular Farms and Mills – owe N28.399 billion and they must pay for the excess rice they imported above their allowed quota at preferential rate.

“This is not the first time that foreign importers have tried to derail government rice self-sufficiency policy. They have always sabotaged every rice policy of the Federal Government; even the efforts of the the Presidential Initiative on Rice put in place in 2001 and 2003 by the Federal Government.”

The minister insisted that the government policy on rice was yielding the desired dividends as domestic rice production has increased and the number of modern rice mills grown.

He listed Dangote Group, Elephant Group, Flour Mill and Honeywell as some of the local firms that have been enticed by the policy to go into rice production on a large scale.

Adesina said: “The goal is to turn importers into local producers. And that is being achieved. For example, Dangote Group, a major importer of food in the country, is developing 150,000 hectares of rice fields in Edo, Kebbi, Jigawa, Niger and Kogi states that will produce one million MT of rice paddy per annum within four years.

“Elephant Group, another major rice importer, is investing $300 million on a 76,000MT/annum mill and a 10,000Ha farm in Oyo State. These are all investments that have been publicly announced.”

“The Asians are getting good competitors in our local firms and they are not happy. Dangote Group is investing $1 billion; Flour Mill ($218 million); Elephant Group ($300 million); and Honeywell ($213 million)

He said: “Nigerian entrepreneurs have also seen the opportunity created by the increased paddy production; rice mills have risen from just one integrated rice mill in 2010 to twenty rice mills today, with a combined capacity of 700,000MT annum.

“The use of certified improved seeds by farmers led to high quality uniform paddy which greatly increased the marketability of rice from out local integrated millers comparable with import-grade, high quality rice. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), price of local rice has consistently been lower than that of imported rice; no wonder some unscrupulous importers bag local rice and sell it as imported rice.”—Maritime Hub

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