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Import vehicles into Benin and Western Africa

Import vehicles into Benin and Western Africa

The majority of our exports to  Africa are going to Maputo ,Durban ,DAR ES SALAAM, MOMBASA  , Port Louis, TamataVe,WalVis Bay,Pointe Noire, Luanda, Lome,Matadi, Owendo, LIBREVILLE, Bata, Malabo, Duala,  Lagos, Cotonou, Conakry,Tema, Dakar,Namibe based dealers who buy it for their customers in different parts of South and East ,west Africa


The People's Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey) is situated in West Africa on the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea, and has an area of 112,620 sq km (43,483 sq mi), extending 665 km (413 mi) N–S and 333 km (207 mi) E–W. Comparatively, the area occupied by Benin is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. Roughly wedge-shaped, Benin is bounded on the N by Niger, on the E by Nigeria, on the S by the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean), on the W by Togo, and on the NW by Burkina Faso, with a total boundary length of 1,989 (1,233 mi). The capital city of Benin, Porto-Novo, is located in the southeastern corner of the country.

Benin has a small domestic market (population 7.3 million; 2003 per capita GNP of USD 1100). Benin is also a potential transshipment or production base for fellow member-countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS; population: over 180 million), most notably Nigeria (population: 130 million.

The port of Cotonou serves as a gateway for the sub-region with many goods –- including almost 350,000 used cars per year -- arriving destined for Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and other countries in West Africa. Formerly among the best ports in the region in terms of the speed at which cargo is unloaded and clears customs, it has faced increasing delays, blamed in large part on corruption. Average processing time to clear a shipment from the port is two weeks. Cotonou's Port has therefore lost market to more efficient regional facilities such as the port in neighboring Lomé, Togo. Port authorities, under the leadership of a new director, have recently made efforts to improve the level of service through opening of a guichet unique, a one-stop processing facility to clear goods through the port. A large-scale port security upgrade is also underway. But these measures did not prevent the car dealers’ sales from decreasing from 3 billions CFA to 1 billion.

Unfortunately, a number of Nigerian criminals, increasingly in collusion with Beninese, use Benin as a base to defraud U.S. companies and citizens with "419" scams (e.g. advance fees), so named for the relevant section of Nigerian law. Potential U.S. investors should contact the Economic Section in Cotonou or the Commercial Section in Abidjan before sending any money or products to potential "partners" in Benin or sending "registration" fees to any purported Benin governmental agency.

The Port of Cotonou: Compared to Nigerian ports

Cotonou is today recognized as an access corridor, serving not only Nigeria but Niger Republic and the eastern parts of landlocked Mali and Bukina Faso. As a way of notching up volume of transshipment trade, Cotonou has completed the asphalting of the Savalou-Djougou and Natitingou-Porga highways and other road construction projects.

While the process of clearing a mere 20 foot container in Nigeria could drive a well-meaning importer insane and indeed could take anything from 4 weeks to infinity, clearing process in Cotonou takes between 24 to 48 hours unless there is a complication like false declaration or financial constraints on the part of the importer. The process begins with the presentation of the bill of lading (connaissment in French) by the clearing agent who must have received same from his client, the consignor. This is immediately run through the electronic manifest system for verification. Here, one would check if his consignment has arrived.

With the bill of lading in her hand, the clearing agent already goes to the shipping company. Upon getting to this office, the bill of lading is handed over in addition to the agent’s ID card, as well as the international passport of the importer which must correspond with the name on the bill of lading. Receipts of the goods being shipped is also tendered.

Once satisfied with their verification, the shipping company issues a paper called Exchange Bon-A-Delivery. Photocopies of this are made and sent to the port authority and SOBEMAP. The pre-shipment agent may also use BIVAC (Bureau Inspection Veritace Academie Consiquency). Based on their certificate, the importer makes what is called a declaration at the customs desk.

Typing the declaration is the most sensitive stage of clearing. HThe importer is expected to declare not only the numbers of cars in a container but also the chassis number of each of the cars, the model and such other details. Each car must come with its log book.

At Cotonou Port, there are two types of bill of lading. One indicates shipment (consumassion) by indigenous importers while the other (transit) identifies imports by Nigerians or other nationals. S10 signifies Nigeria-bound goods; S12 is for Burkina Faso while S14 is for Niger Republic which in fact attracts the lowest tarrif. C is for goods meant for Cotonou while C6, also for Cotonou, is for rebate, especially goods imported by government departments.

As part of its shrewd drive for patronage, the Beninois offer rebate to the Nigerian importer. This means that apart from paying what is generally viewed as a healthy tariff system, the Nigerian importer is further pampered with about 15 percent tariff lesser than what is paid by his Beninois counterpart. However, to protect the Beninois market, the Nigerian importer must not sell his goods within the Benin territory; indeed, he has only three days to get his cargoes across the border.

Once the customs duties have been paid, the importer or his clearing agent is expected to wait for the Long Room number. The wait may take anything from two to three hours. When the number is issued, along with many others, the importer proceeds to a hall called Magazine 7. He is required to quote the Long Room number on every document thereafter.

The Cotonou Long Room is anything but long. Unlike the notorious Long Rooms of the Apapa and Tin Can Island Port that have given many importers the heart attack, that of the Cotonou port is not dreaded by anybody. Described as a nightmare by those unfortunate to have passed through any of them, the Nigeiran Long Room parades over 13 desks, each representing extortion, ‘settlement’, arbitrary levies and unnecessary bottlenecks. Sadly, the Long Room job which is something two or three people could handle between two and three hours is manipulated to last between 10 and 25 days on the average.

The surprise of this reporter is better imagined when it was discovered that no importer is expected to stay more than 24 hours in the Cotonou Long Room. In fact, there is a penalty for delay. To speed up the clearing process, any importer found foot-dragging in the Long Room after 24 hours is fined CFA 50,000 before his document can advance to the next stage.

At Magasine 7, you have combined inspectors, including the Customs, the Ports Authority and SOBEMAP. Activities here are essentially to compare notes and to fish out any discrepancy. Satisfied with the final checks, photocopies of the documents are forwarded to the storage area so that your container can be identified and positioned for physical examination. The importer is expected to pay some fee depending on the weight of the container. Unlike in Nigeria, there is no hide-n-seek with forklift drivers, no offers of bribe or too many cargoes chasing just one forklift or crane.

Two representatives of the shipping company accompany the Customs, ports officials and SOBEMAP to open the containers for examination. Before the customs break open your container, the importer or his clearing agent must have hired and kept on standby trucks to evacuate his goods. For cars, the importer must have got his drivers ready. Since cars inside containers have their tyres removed before shipment, the tyres are fixed back. For other goods, the container is sealed again after inspection. The importer returns to Magazine 7. There he is given a release note and an escort for the final journey of the cargoes to the border. Finally, the customs issues an exit visa. As the goods travel towards the border, it is a serious offence to open a sealed container and attempt to sell its contents in Benin market.

Surprisingly, even when they would neither be used nor sold in Benin, the authorities there insist that transit vehicles to Nigeria must obtain insurance and registration number before they can be driven across the border. The Beninois police is strict in enforcing this. Saturday Sun observed that IP on the number plate is for Benin vehicles while VT signifies vehicles bound for Nigeria or Niger Republic. For single-commodity imports like cars, it is possible to get the container out in one day if the process began early enough in the day. Observations showed that part of the smooth and accelerated process of the Cotonou port is the custom’s examination of cargoes at the stacks before they are moved to their designated bays. In sharp contrast to Nigerian Ports, once described by a World Bank Group as “perhaps the most uncertain business environment in the world, the Cotonou Port is designed to encourage growth. For sure, there are no conspiracy and bottlenecks to entangle imports in demurrage.

Though Nigeria slapped a ban on the overland import of a wide variety of goods from Benin, the list of items imported and trucked to the Nigerian border, just 50 kilometer to the east, has continued to increase. It is said that Cotonou handles some 350,000 second-hand vehicles imported from Europe into Nigeria every year. It was further learnt that re-export trade is different from transit trade. The latter makes sense and is for landlocked countries like Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. With re-export, Nigeria, which has eight ports back home, is simply renting the services of the Cotonou Port.

Beleaquered back home by ambiguous government policies and an enduring regime of bribery, corruption, extortion, multiple levies and harassment by a plethora of security agents, more and more Nigerian importers find justification to join the exodus to Cotonou where the Beninois are only to happy to receive them.

It is not only importers that are avoiding Nigerian Ports. High shipping and clearing costs and the general poor infrastructure have resulted in some shipowners preferring to carry Nigeria-bound cargo to the more efficient port of Cotonou from where they are transshipped in leaky vessels to Nigeria. Bureaucratic bottleneck has not only caused expensive delays for ships, a lack of adequate facilities in the ports has forced shipping companies to acquire their own landing and loading gear, thus increasing shipping cost.

Currently, it costs N250, 000 to N300, 000 to clear a vehicle at the Apapa, Lagos seaport, whereas it costs about N120, 000 to get a car out of Cotonou, then N40, 000 to smuggle it into the country. Seven years ago, when the federal government banned the importation of cars older than eight years into the country, not a few people condemned the action. A Customs inspector at the Seme border, said that the federal government had to reverse its five year-old car policy following relentless persuasion by the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Car Dealers Association, CDA, and UBMDA among others.

Cotonou by International Standards

The Autonomous Port of Cotonou –- a key gateway to the Benin market  – is a good example of how corruption and static attitudes dampen Benin’s longer-term growth potential. The port serves as a gateway for the sub-region with many goods arriving in Cotonou destined for Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and other countries in West Africa. It is a transshipment point for about 350,000 used cars annually –- 90% of which are re-exported. The GOB owns and manages the port, which is one of its largest revenue earners (along with the cotton sector). Though formerly among the best in the region in terms of the speed at which cargo is unloaded and cleared, improvements at other ports (notably Lome, Togo) have caused Cotonou to lose considerable market share in the region.  It is also hampered by corruption and shippers complain of pilferage and inadequate port security, although the Port Director has undertaken improvements in these areas.   Even so, key sectors such as customs collections and enforcement are outside his direct authority. Because of persistent difficulties, Cotonou has lost part of the Nigerian transshipment business to Lome. Further more, due to the Ivorian civil war, ninety per cent of vessels transporting cargo for the inland countries that originally stopped at Abidjan prefer the port of Lome to that of Cotonou, according to a World Bank Official.  This loss of business means less revenue for the Port to use towards the necessary security upgrades required by the International Port Security Code.  Without these upgrades, shippers may not be able to export goods to Europe or the United States without enduring extra security procedures at those ports of call and therefore may no longer find it profitable to include Cotonou among their stops in West Africa.

The GOB has taken measures to improve service at the Port by opening the "guichet unique" to speed up the customs clearing process. This provides "one-stop shopping" for traders and transporters to clear their goods through the port. Port authorities have also made efforts to combat corruption and other crimes through computerization of clearance procedures, establishment of a police force at the port, and taking advantage of training opportunities offered by U.S. customs officials, but the dimensions of the problems continue to dwarf these efforts. The World Bank and African Development Bank have encountered serious resistance within the Benin Government, particularly at the Ministry of Transport and the Customs Administration, to reform projects at the Port of Cotonou. Both financial institutions have recommended privatization of certain port functions, but port officials and unions – and some politicians who benefit from the status quo or fear its control by foreigners – have fiercely resisted privatization. The dock operations sector, however, has been privatized.  As a result, apart from the state owned SOBEMAP, COMAN S.A. (Danish) and SMTC of the Bollore Group (French), are now playing active roles to improve port services.

The Benin Government has transferred the used car business from land adjacent to the port to an area east of Cotonou in an effort to relieve traffic congestion. The GOB hopes to construct a new port to the east at Seme to expand capacity further. This new port is a critically important initiative, but will require huge new capital outlays that will likely only be forthcoming from the international development banks if Benin continues to implement economic reforms. Unfortunately, the port unions oppose the opening of a second port, fearing what it will mean for their jobs, and have gone on strike on more than one occasion, resulting in huge backlogs while shutting down various sectors of the economy.

Benin Import Rules

A suppliers pro-forma invoice must accompany the application for an I/L. Most goods are subject to pre-shipment inspection. A Clean Report of Findings attesting satisfactory quality/quantity, inspection and price comparison is required.

Francophone goods and EU goods may be imported freely. Imports from all other countries are subject to an import licence. Imports from countries outside the French Franc Area valued over CFA Francs 500,000 must be registered with an authorised bank and the import certificate or licence, valid for 6 months, is issued by the Directorate of External Commerce.

Commercial Invoices

Show usual full details and all copies should bear the following declaration: "Nous certifions que les marchandises faisant l'objet de cette fourniture ont été fabriquées au pays suivant: [NAME OF COUNTRY] et que la valeur sous mentionnée est juste et conforme a nos écritures." (Translation: We hereby certify that the goods to which this invoice relates were manufactured in [NAME OF COUNTRY] and that the value stated is correct and in accordance with our books.) To be signed by a director, secretary, partner, etc, and endorsed by an authorised Chamber of Commerce (see Where to Obtain Certificates of Origin under Certificates of Origin in Documents). Facsimile signatures are accepted by Customs. Customs require 2 copies. Other Information The full, completed Job Assignment Form, a copy of the invoice and the packing list should be sent to Bureau Veritas at their request. They will arrange for the inspections to be carried out by their UK office. At least five working days' notice before the shipment of the goods should be given to Bureau Veritas by the exporter. Other Certificates Certificates of health required for certain foodstuffs livestock and plants.


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