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Regulate import of electronic materials, economist advises FG

The online importation of electronic books, digital videos, and video games should be regulated by the Nigerian government and other developing countries, the Senior Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Committee for Trade and Development, Rashmi Banga, has advised.

Banga, in a statement on Thursday, said regulation was necessary during this period of crisis when more people were importing digital luxury items.

The statement is entitled ‘Should digitally delivered products be exempted from customs duties?’

He said though customs duties were applied on the physical imports of the digital products, their online imports escape customs duties due to a World Trade Organisation e-commerce moratorium, which bans countries from applying customs duties on electronic transmissions.

He noted that COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent  lockdowns had led to an exponential rise in imports of digitalised luxury items such as movies, music, video games and printed matter.

While the crisis is expected to push millions of people in developing countries to extreme poverty, the economic expert said precious domestic financial resources were being spent on the import of luxury items.

Banga said, “As the digital revolution unfolds, more products are leaving their physical carriers and being traded online.

“However, with rising product digitalisation, developing countries, the net importers of digitalised products, are fast losing tariff revenues due to the moratorium.

“While the crisis is expected to push millions of people in developing countries to extreme poverty, precious domestic financial resources are being spent on imports of these luxury items.”

He said developing countries could generate forty times more tariff revenue every year compared with developed countries by imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.

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“The WTO identified digitisable products under five categories: sound recordings, audiovisual works, video games, computer software and literary works,” he stated.

According to him, a study conducted by the UNCTAD showed that potential tariff revenue loss to least developed countries was estimated at $1.5bn while sub-Saharan African countries lost about $2.6bn.

He explained that the study found that the actual global physical imports of the identified 49 digitisable products in 2017 were worth $116bn, while the estimated physical imports were valued at $255bn.

Banga added that the global imports of these digitisable products via electronic transmissions were therefore estimated at $139bn.

The economist added that the study estimated that due to the WTO moratorium, the potential tariff revenue loss to developing countries was $10bn in 2017.

Punch

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