Rice remains restricted despite lifting of forex ban – Customs

Despite the skyrocketing cost of rice and the recent halt on the ban of foreign exchange for its imports, the crop is still a restricted commodity, the Nigeria Customs Service has declared.

Rice, a staple food widely consumed in Nigeria, has been rising in price despite its production locally. The commodity now sells for between N55,000 and N60,000 for a 50kg bag, depending on the area of purchase.

Its price was around N30,000 for the same 50kg bag about a year ago, but the cost has maintained a northward drive despite the local production of rice and the recent lifting of the ban on forex for the importation of rice into Nigeria.

On October 12, The PUNCH reported that the Central Bank of Nigeria had lifted the ban on importers of 43 items restricted from accessing foreign exchange on its official platform. Rice is among the items.

Many Nigerians had expected the cost of rice, particularly the imported ones, to crash following the announcement by CBN. But on the contrary, the cost of the staple has continued to rise.

Although domestic producers of rice said the high cost of production was a major reason for the rise in the cost of the commodity, it was gathered that its imports were still very limited due to the restriction on the product by the Nigeria Customs Service.

The NCS insisted that rice, as a restricted item, would be confiscated if imported via the country’s land borders, stressing that the lifting of forex ban on 43 items by the CBN did not stop rice from being a restricted commodity.

“What is the relationship between the removal of forex on restricted items, vis-a-vis fiscal policies of the government? They are different things. Rice is a restricted item. So, if it is a restricted item, it remains restricted,” the NCS spokesperson, Abdullahi Maiwada, told our Saturday PUNCH.

He continued, “There is a difference between restriction and prohibition. And there is a difference between absolute prohibition and prohibition by trade. Somebody who is in tune with how these import and export processes are done must know what these terminologies are.

“How many tonnes of rice do we produce in Nigeria? Those are the things to find out, not to ask me why the price is going high. Rice is a restricted item and that is why it is being intercepted.

“If you import rice through the land border it will be confiscated because it is a restricted item. The way vehicles cannot come in through the land border, is also how rice cannot come in through the land border.”

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Maiwada insisted that the restrictive policy of the government on the commodity had not changed, adding that if there was any change in the policy it would be communicated to the public by the customs service.

He said, “If there is a change in policy, we will tell you. If today the government says vehicles can come in through the land borders, we have to inform you by telling you that the government has lifted the ban restricting the importation of vehicles through the land borders and you can then import vehicles.

“Also, some people are talking about frozen poultry products, and these are products under the import prohibition list. Go and check our website, see the import and export prohibition list, you will see that live birds and poultry products are under the prohibition list.”

He said the NCS does not determine the price of goods in the market, adding that “Customs is only responsible for the implementation of fiscal policies.”

The apex bank, in October 2023, had announced in a statement titled, ‘CBN restates commitment to boost liquidity in forex market’, signed by the then Director, Corporate Communications, Isa AbdulMumin, stated that “importers of all the 43 items previously restricted by the 2015 circular referenced TED/FEM/FPC/GEN/01/010, and its addendums are now allowed to purchase foreign exchange in the Nigerian foreign exchange market.”

The bank had also stated that it would continue to promote orderliness and professional conduct by all Nigerian foreign exchange market participants to ensure market forces determined exchange rates on a willing buyer – willing seller principle.

The statement said the CBN was committed to accelerating efforts to clear the FX backlog with existing participants and would continue dialogue with stakeholders to address the issue.

Meanwhile, an impeccable source at the CBN declared that due to the paucity of forex, it would be very tough to secure dollars to import rice.

“For the seaports, if you can secure forex to import, fine. But the truth is that you cannot. Nobody will approve your Form-A to import rice, I’m just giving you this reality,” the source who requested not to be named due to lack of authorisation, stated.

The official added, “Every government has its way of doing things, but the fact is that nothing has changed concerning rice imports, despite the lifting of the ban on the restriction of forex for the imports of some of those items.”

“The President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, explained that the skyrocketing price of rice in Nigeria was not the fault of farmers, but due to the high cost of producing the commodity.

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