Against the backdrop of the EU sanction on Nigerian beans for not meeting standard, Dr Vincent Isegbe, Coordinating Director, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), whose agency is responsible for issuing clearance for agro exports/imports, speaks with Daily Trust on the current situation and the challenges ahead. Excerpts:
Despite the NAQS’ efforts there are still complaints that Nigeria produce are constantly being rejected abroad. What exactly is happening?
Let me start by correcting some erroneous reports: some people have reported that 16 commodities have been rejected, others said 32 commodities while some said 46 commodities. The EU has clearly come out to say that for now it is only beans that has been suspended from going to Europe. The other ones they are talking about rejection are incidental cases; maybe they forged the documents or they didn’t get the proper documents or the commodity has an issue which they will draw our attention to. And if it’s something that we can resolve, like the issue of certificate – maybe because of improper documentation, that can be corrected and the commodity will get passage.
So those are incidental cases here and there. But the only commodity which is under suspension for now is beans and we are addressing the issues. That is what the EU said we should address – address export control. By export control they mean that we should have machinery in place to ensure that whatever leaves the sores of Nigeria is safe for them in Europe.
Export control means that those commodities should be inspected and certified by quarantine services. In the process, the criteria for inspection and certification will be put in place. One, there will be no pesticides above permissible limit, no pests. Generally, the commodities will be physically clean, well packaged, labeled and exported with the photo-sanitary certificate issued by NAQS. Once that is done, those commodities will be accepted by EU.
How difficult is it for you to deal with this issue?
Now, we have issue which we need to address as a nation as to why we may continue to have rejection of our agricultural produce.
One is administrative – and very essential. You will recall that between 2011 and 2012, the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Finance issued a circular that they need to streamline the number of government agencies at the ports and NAQS was one of those government agencies that was asked to leave the ports as a way of decongesting them to allow for 48 hours clearance.
We have advised government of the consequences of asking quarantine to leave the ports; because the agency is necessary for the issuance of certificate for the passage of agricultural plant products into or out of the country. So if NAQS is not there to do the inspection and certification, and any commodity leaves the sores of Nigeria without quarantine inspection and certification, that commodity can be sent back like the case of the recent vegetables that were sent back from the UK. Now we have appealed to government that quarantine and any other government agencies are mindful of the fact that the economy needs to have 48 hours clearance of commodities. But we, are as nation, what is our priority? If government is interested in agro exports – which I know government very much is; and if NAQS is doing whatever it can to support government in ensuring that revenue is brought into the country through quarantine inspection and certification, then NAQS necessarily needs to be at the port of inspection… and at the airports. We are not at the screening points; they asked us to go to the cargo and a lot of commodities passed either as hands-on, or luggage that do not necessarily go through cargo. So who inspects such? Is it the aviation security that will inspect these or other agencies of government, and if they do inspect, who issues the certificate?
Consequent upon these, is the fact that we are still under the EU three years suspension which will expire next year June. We are still not where we are supposed to be. What resulted into the three years ban still subsists because quarantine is still not in a position to know what is passing through our ports. So if that continues, then we may have a herculean task trying to go through the EU scrutiny points. The EU is watching. Their people are passing through the same ports, they are seeing what is happening.
So it is not a matter of us reporting that we are there, they have their independent way of assessing whether we are there or not. So I think the earlier government identifies that and takes proactive action the better for our export trade.