Economy stakeholders and experts say Nigeria’s free zones can become more attractive to investors if the government reviews the policy and laws establishing them to include more incentives and is mainstreamed into the broader national policy.
This was one of the policy recommendations at the ongoing Conference and Exhibition to mark the 30th anniversary of free zones scheme in Nigeria with the theme “Nigeria Special Economic Zones Scheme: Evolvement, Challenges, and Way Forward to Economic Growth and Sustainability in Abuja on Wednesday.
The experts stress that after 30 years, Nigeria is still lagging behind in terms of utilising the economic zones to accelerate development compared to other countries where free zones have significantly leapfrogged development; adding that the way forward to is to reposition the scheme to attract more investment.
Adetokumbo Kayode, an international arbitrator and tax expert , and former president of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce md Industry, said the economic zones must go beyond being included in the annual budgetary allocation, and the policy must be mainstreamed into the national plantl become a national policy on order to make it more appealing to both foreign and local investors. He stressed that effective and efficient policies should be reviewed after every seven years to keep it at par with the current realities, adding that the success of the scheme depends on the policy strategy
“Special Economic Zones as a critical economic development tool can no longer stand alone like a parallel line. It must be mainstreamed into the broader African and national economic process policies especially policies/development plans on the economy, trade and industry.
Kayode also explained that increasing incentives will provide a competitive advantage because the demand for investment is high globally. He informed that the law establishing the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), a regulatory agency gives the board and the minister of Industry, Trade and Investment the power to review and add incentives to attract new opportunities.
“We must also strengthen the legal and policy frameworks governing the economic to ensure adequate protection of investments,” he added.
Embrace technology to improve the ease of doing business an promote new sectors of the economic eco-system like, digital economy, green economy, circular economy, creative economy, among others; and incentivize the creation of Eco-industrial parks that spark economic growth while reducing negative environmental and social impacts. He said exploring gases areas has huge potential for the economy
Speaking further, the expert said the zones should go beyond manufacturing tp the provision of services such as gaming services. Kayode said the institution of an off-shore banking system within the zones would be w big boost.
To boost employment, the expert said the economic zones policy should prioritize skills development for the available abundant workforce in the country.
Speaking during a panel session, Emeka Ene, the managing director, Enugu Power and Energy Industrial Free Trade Zone, said it was is important for the regulatory agencies and other agencies to collaborate and partner rather than compete, if the free zone scheme must succeed. He decried that there is a current disconnect between regulators which must be addressed.
Ene, also noted at the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA) for Nigeria’s free trade zones and government should take policy actions to reposition the scheme
Alsp seaking during another plenary session, Olusegun Olutayo, lead expert, Trade Enablement, National Action Committee on AfCFTA said there is need to analyse the provisions of the trade agreement and how it suits participants.
“Is the knowledge of the AfCFTA rules of origin with the SEZ, particularly those that focuses on exports because to enter the continental market the rules of origin has to be met,” he said.
He recommended that NEPZA fosters a relationship between selected export-oriented SEZ and export-oriented countries in the continent which will drive a synergy where the requirement for the rules of origin can be reviewed.
Pasquale Fiore, MD, Intels Nigeria Limited said the infrastructure deficit is a problem to achieving the goal of AfCTFA.
He said although the government is working on it, their efforts need to be intensified and fast-tracked to harness available opportunities.
“If the necessary infrastructure is not available, you will not attract your desired investment,”David Frame, MD, Eko Atlantic Free Zone said
Frame added that Africa should use the free zones to develop materials to international standards and be an exporter not an importer in order to improve its economy.
Femi Solebo, MD, Notore Oil and Gas said for the oil and gas companies operating in the economic zones, oil theft is discouraging because there has been a drastic reduction in activities, hence the government needs to address the issue of oil theft and insecurity.
Enobong Umoessien, head, Business and Enterprise Promotion, ECOWAS Commission said prices of African made products are determined abroad which AfCTFA seeks to address.
He said AfCFTA participants can only be competitive if they offload heavy volume goods with high quality which can only come from special economic zones, hence they must be fully optimized.