Why The Prohibition of 43 Items by CBN Did Not Lead to Growth of Foreign Reserves


Foreign exchange reserves are a crucial component of a nation’s economic stability. They serve as a safeguard against external shocks, a tool for monetary policy, and a means to facilitate international trade. Central banks play a pivotal role in managing these reserves, with decisions often affecting importers’ access to foreign exchange. In recent years, some countries like Nigeria have implemented policies that prohibit about 43 items from accessing foreign exchange, believing it will lead to the growth of foreign reserves. However, this article aims to explore why such prohibitions may not necessarily yield the desired outcome as seen in the case of these 43 items and why CBN had to now reverse the policy.

Impact on Legal Trade

Prohibiting importers from accessing foreign exchange may lead to a surge in illegal or unregulated trade. When legal channels are obstructed, a black market can emerge, eroding the government’s control over trade and exacerbating the problem it sought to address. Illicit trade can operate without adhering to safety standards or tax regulations, further depriving the government of potential revenue.

Increase in Smuggling

Restrictions on accessing foreign exchange can inadvertently promote smuggling. Importers looking to circumvent the prohibition may resort to illegal means, smuggling in the banned products, which can also result in a loss of tax revenue and foreign exchange control for the central bank. This was reported in the last 6years while this policy of the CBN was still in force.

Reduced Tax Revenue

By limiting the import of certain products, the government can lose out on tax revenues. Legal imports are typically subject to tariffs, value-added taxes, and other duties. Prohibiting these imports reduces tax collections, which can negatively impact the government’s ability to finance public services and infrastructure development.

Negative Impact on Economic Growth

Restricting imports can adversely affect overall economic growth. Access to a wide variety of goods and services is essential for economic development. When these choices are curtailed, the economy can become less competitive, potentially leading to reduced foreign investments and stunted economic growth.

Evasion of Restrictions

Importers may find ways to evade restrictions. By disguising prohibited products or reclassifying them under different categories, they can continue to access foreign exchange and import the restricted items. This evasion undermines the effectiveness of the central bank’s policy and may even create opportunities for corruption.

Distorted Market Dynamics

Prohibiting certain importers from accessing foreign exchange can distort market dynamics. Limited competition in the domestic market can lead to monopolistic or oligopolistic practices, potentially raising prices for consumers and this had led to a very high inflation in Nigeria. Moreover, it can deter foreign investors from entering markets with these restrictions, as they may perceive them as less open and competitive. This has made inflow of foreign exchange inflow for investment into Nigeria to reduce significantly from about $24 billion in 2023 to just about to just about $5 billion in 2022.

Economic Disruption

Import restrictions can lead to disruptions in the supply chain, affecting the manufacturing sector, which often relies on imported raw materials. This can result in factory closures, layoffs, and reduced economic output. This has been the bane of the Nigerian economy in recent years, and this has had a cascading effect on the broader economy.

Fostering Corruption

Prohibiting access to foreign exchange can sometimes foster corruption within the import sector. Importers who are desperate to obtain foreign currency may resort to bribing officials to secure the necessary funds (and there are allegations that this is happening at the CBN) and this consequently undermines the central bank’s control over foreign reserves. 

While the prohibition of importers from accessing foreign exchange by the central bank is often implemented with the intention of bolstering foreign reserves, it is important to consider the potential unintended consequences of such policies. These measures can lead to illegal trade, increased smuggling, reduced tax revenue, negative economic growth, evasion of restrictions, distorted market dynamics, economic disruptions, and even corruption. Instead, a more balanced approach that focuses on policies aimed at promoting economic growth and reducing trade deficits while maintaining the integrity of the foreign exchange market may yield better results in the long run. It is essential for policymakers to carefully evaluate the implications of such measures and consider alternative approaches to managing foreign reserves effectively.

What The CBN and Federal Government Must Now Do

Growing foreign reserves is essential for maintaining economic stability and mitigating external shocks. Central banks and governments can take several steps to increase foreign reserves. Here are ten key actions they can consider:

Promote Export Growth: Encourage domestic businesses to export their products and services to other countries. Offer incentives and support for exporters to increase foreign currency inflows.

Attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Create an attractive investment climate to draw foreign investors. FDI can bring in foreign capital, which contributes to foreign reserve growth.

Strengthen International Trade Relations: Foster and maintain strong diplomatic and trade relations with other nations to expand export opportunities and reduce trade deficits.

Diversify Export Markets: Reduce reliance on a single export market. Expanding into new markets can help increase foreign exchange earnings and reduce vulnerability to economic shocks in specific regions.

Implement Exchange Rate Policies: Carefully manage exchange rates to make exports more competitive. This can boost export revenues and, in turn, foreign reserves.

Manage Import Expenditures:

Control and monitor imports by encouraging the responsible use of foreign exchange for essential goods and services while curbing non-essential imports.

Monetary Policy: Use monetary policy tools to influence capital flows and maintain favorable interest rates to attract foreign investments.

Foreign Debt Management: Manage external debt responsibly to prevent excessive outflows and preserve foreign reserves. Refinance or restructure debt when necessary to reduce repayment burdens.

Sovereign Wealth Funds: Establish and manage sovereign wealth funds to accumulate and invest foreign exchange reserves in profitable assets while ensuring transparency and accountability.

Reserve Accumulation: Actively purchase and accumulate foreign currency through foreign exchange market interventions, with a focus on maintaining an adequate level of reserves to withstand external shocks.

It’s essential for Central Banks of Nigeria and the federal governments to work in tandem to implement these strategies effectively. A balanced approach that combines these measures with prudent fiscal and monetary policies can help grow foreign reserves and enhance Nigerian nation’s economic stability. Additionally, ongoing monitoring and adaptation of these strategies in response to changing economic conditions are crucial to maintaining a healthy reserve position.

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