Exporters of food products have called on the Federal Government to assist in providing enabling environment for easy export to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The exporters bared their minds at a recent Stakeholder’s round-table meeting held at the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Apapa, Lagos.
Organised by the AGOA Trade Resource Center (ATRC), the meeting featured Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Certified and licensed exporters during which participants exchanged ideas on best practices in the food export sector.
Regional Coordinator of the NEPC (South West), Mr. Babatunde Faleke at the event noted that the objective of the meeting was to interact with the exporters and to know why they have not appreciably exported Nigerian foods to the US under AGOA despite their certification. He informed of the benefits of AGOA and enjoined them to feel free to express their challenges as the Council invited FDA Specialist to further enlighten them on the way forward.
According to Faleke, “the meeting was with the view to proffering solutions to the already known market access challenges and other challenges as will be informed by you participants”.
“We have to do things right. NEPC is committed to ensuring performance of exporters in a formal and ideal way, hence this roundtable meeting. Importantly, we want Nigerian exporters to participate in the forth coming Food Show at Miami, in the US.” He also informed of the important role of the Nigerian American-Air-Sea Cargo, owner of shoptomydoor, in products shipment and sales in the US, and the need for exporters to network with the Company.
“In the past, export of food, particularly shrimps to the US was high, now there is a ban on export of Nigerian fish to the US until the needful is done by the appropriate authority. Hence the need to re-strategise, Faleke said.”
Speaking at the meeting, Managing Partner, Treyb Associate, an expert in FDA certification and related issues on trade to the US, Mr. David Aderibigbe, emphasised the importance of the FDA certification.
Aderibigbe who is also aware some back door food exports originates from Nigeria, told participants the danger in informal export. “The penalty of back door export can be grave. If your goods get to the USA and it is not on their list, if it is not much, they may categorise it as your personal goods but if it is in large volume and you don’t go through the normal process, it may not be allowed in to the US,” he explained.
The FDA expert however enumerated the processes involved in obtaining the FDA certification. “A visit to the factory is mandatory; the process begins when the applicant responds to a prototype questionnaire and product(s) analysis which will be reviewed.”
“After that, our agent in the US concludes registration and certification to hasten issuance of the Food Facility Registration Number which will be release to exporters for display on all their food package(s) to the US. When they would want to finally export we would also be involved, we have to notify the US Custom Boarder Protection to notify them that so and so product is coming to the US.
“We have to tell them the product code and quantity and communicate same to the FDA office before food departs Nigeria, they would now reply and give a cover note for all the products which the company would have to take along or send to their agent in the US, it is with that sheet they would clear the goods at the US end.” He added that about $700 is charged, but it could come down to about $500 because of the collaboration with the NEPC,” he explained.
Dr. Jide Adedeji, MD/CEO Obe Sause, Ibeju Lekki, Lagos, is a manufacturer of Tomato Paste, Obe Sauce. He informed that he has not exported before but working on the processes to ensure itch free export to the US.
Expressing his mind on expectations from the NEPC, Adedeji who said his product is relatively new in the market and he has challenge of production cost. “Because we are new in the market the people don’t know us very well, so they do not buy your products and pay immediately.
“They want some kind of credit facility, my company does not have the money to make a 20 feet container load of goods and send it to somebody without getting money back immediately upfront, so if we can get a kind of export production credit.
“When we get the order we get a kind of loan so that you can make the products and send and come after for your money six months and then pay back their money. But if I am going to make a 20 feet container load of goods and that is going to cost me $50,000 and ship it to somebody before he pays, some kind of export finance is important and must be provided,” he said.
He however calls the government to help in promoting Nigerian food items in the US and create awareness for retailers of African foods to know the products from Nigeria.
“We need something like a solo exhibition, because there is no way I can supply my products in the US or in UK and I would be looking for distributors around in any of those countries.”
He however enjoined the chambers of commerce and industry to assist in creating awareness. “The Chambers of Industry are the one that should come up with the list of distributors in the US and then you can have interaction or even the embassies should have Commercial Affair or Attaché.
“If I am trading with a country I should be able to go to their trade office and tell them I am a manufacturer of tomato sauce where is your list of distributors? So that does not exist, you cannot even go to them for such they don’t have it. This is what we need to talk to the government about.
“The number one thing they should do in the US and importantly embassies, is that there should be economic attaché or export desk where you can introduce yourself and they advise you for this product you have this is the area you can go these are ten potential distributors you can talk to.”
Another participant, Mrs. Funke Daniel, MD/CEO Ladmuk Company Ltd, Abeokuta, who exports Garri, Cassava Flour and Local Fabric, narrated her experience.
“We exported cassava flour and garri under AGOA then. I just went with sample of cassava chips, they had interest in Garri and cassava industrial starch in 2008-2009 and we were able to export.”
On the volume of export she did then she stated that she couldn’t export much. “Well, it wasn’t much then. What I did then was just about three containers, if it was China it would be more,” she said.
Daniel also expressed her challenges in exporting food items. “What I encountered was that the goods must be well packaged. I had sent them samples so they saw that the packaging should be up to what you need in real market. What I did was more than sample but not enough.
“Their certification must be complete. You must have their full documentation. I remember when we opened AGOA, the documentation they trained us on was what discouraged the people and it may not be difficult but I felt may be those that did the presentation then, didn’t do it well and that has what discouraged people. First thing is that one must have order from where one intends to export to but who clears it there? We need those to clear the goods there,” she explained.
She however wants the government to assist food exporters by providing warehouse in America where food exports from Nigeria can land. “If we can have a warehouse there, just for Nigerian products in the US like export house so that all our goods should be going there and everyone there would know that this is where you can get Nigerian products.
“We can start with one warehouse because when we went to the US, we met some people who said they can be taking ten containers every two months, those that even have outlets that can be distributing that time existed but the documentation drove some people but now that the NEPC-ATRC is fully involved with someone like Mr. Aderibigbe, we only need to go there do our market survey, find out what products they need and what documents they need from Nigerian exporters,” she said.
Daniel however cautioned those exporting from the backdoor on the danger in such informal trades. “It is important to know the total process before venturing into food export. Some exporters don’t enquire; they do from the back door. They just hear that some people are exporting Garri to the US and they just move in without finding out the processes and documentation. Most of those saying go and bring the goods first and collect money later are liars,” she warned.
Chairman of Oryx Foods, Rtd. Col. C.O. Ajala, manufacturer of Garri, Yam Flour and Beans Flour further informed at the meeting that NEPC needs to identify for distributors selling ethnic foods in the US. He added that there is need for buyer seller meeting in the US and that NEPC should have Trade officers at the Nigerian embassy.
Also at the event, an officer from the Cobalt Inspection Services Limited, Mr. Odimegwu Obih however, informed participants of the need to obtain Clean Certificate of Inspection, a statutory requirement for all non-oil exports. “Exporters of food to the US under AGOA must endeavor to obtain Clean Certificate of Inspection, which is the statutory requirement for all non-oil exports,” he advised. He added that “Colbat inspect shipment quality by random sampling, conduct price analysis to know the products true value.”