Four key issues in trade and investment that are central to the development plan of the Federal Government and the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA) were on the front burner at this year’s Global Trade Development Week (GTDW), a World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference on trade facilitation and development, which held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 30 October 2017 to 1 November 2017. The issues were the ease of doing business, public-private partnership in investment promotion, compliance with laws and regulations governing trade and investment within each jurisdiction, and lowering cost of doing business.
OGFZA has placed a premium on these four concerns as must-address imperatives in its three-year roadmap for the development of the nation’s oil and gas free zones.
The theme of the conference was, “Navigating Global Trade & Reviving Global Growth: Implementing TFA and enhancing capacity across the public and private sector.” TFA, for Trade Facilitation Agreement, a WTO trade protocol which came into force on 22 February 2017, seeks to lubricate trade among member nations of the WTO that have ratified it.
Delegates to the conference—which included four management staff of OGFZA—had the good fortune of listening to and interacting with more than 80 international experts in trade facilitation, international trade finance, customs administration, compliance issues and training—and also with other delegates from the Middle-East, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas.
Opening the Global Trade Week with a welcome address, the Economy Minister of the UAE, of which Dubai is one of the emirates, HE Engr Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, said the theme of the conference was about “facilitating cross-border trading through simplification of procedures at borders and administration requirements, providing information and electronic procedures which help save time, reduce costs and improve customs and logistics standards.” In a co-welcome address, a commissioner in the UAE Federal Customs Authority, HE Ali bin Soubih Alkaabi, said the outcome of the GTDW was expected “to enhance trade capacity and public-private partnership and dialogue to ensure the security of the international supply chain and facilitate global trade.”
One of the six keynote addresses at the plenary of the first day was by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Dr Mukhisha Kituyi, a Kenyan. Dr Kituyi called attention to the link between free trade and rising standard of living, and criticized attempt by some countries to go back to protectionist trade policies.
Customs, compliance and trade facilitation were in focus for two days of the four-day summit. Dr Mikhail Kashubsky, who heads the secretariat of the International Network of Customs Universities (INCU), of which Nigeria is a member, described compliance as key to trade facilitation. “Without compliance, we slip into illicit trade,” Dr Kashubsky said. The conference urged the “development of strategic public-private partnerships between customs agencies, logistics industry and corporate organisations to allow greater trade facilitation, improve controls, enhance security, simplify procedures and lower costs.”
One of the revelations of the summit is the INCU, an important capacity development institution within the WTO orbit, which offers a full range of programmes from the bachelor degree level through master’s to PhD in customs studies. Though Nigeria is a member of the INCU, no Nigerian university is an affiliate of the INCU, whereas other African countries such as Tanzania have INCU affiliate universities.