Nigeria’s Minister calls for increase in Free Trade Zones’ operators’ licence validity to 5 years

MINA Blog- Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo on Thursday directed that the validity period of licenses for operators in free trade zone areas be increased to five years.

The Minister gave the directive at the Nigeria Economic Zones Association Stakeholders Forum with the theme : “Streamlining Free Zone Operations for Global Competitiveness” in Lagos.

Adebayo noted that the ministry had in 2020 temporarily suspended the issuance of new free trade zone licenses due to the need to overhaul the system.

He, however, stressed that following the directive on license expansion, the operators must make yearly returns.

The Minister also urged the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority to fully digitalise their operations before the end of the year.

He reiterated government’s commitment to ensuring a more harmonised operating system for all stakeholders in the free trade zones across the country.

Adebayo said that the Federal Government was aggressively pursuing brilliant ways of driving industrialisation through the efficient and effective operationalization of the free trade zones.

“Globally, free trade zones play a critical role in stimulating industrial activities, boosting the manufacturing sector and growing the economy.

“Their performance impacts three main areas of job creation, diversifying government revenue and generating foreign exchange, as a well functional free trade zone in Nigeria can create 300,000 direct jobs.

“Expanding Nigeria’s export capacity needs under the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) mitigates the risk of Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for imports while also boosting our foreign currency reserves.

“Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to adopt strategies that would transform

them into a dynamic instrument for economic growth,” he said.

Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, Managing Director, NEPZA, urged stakeholders to come together to achieve the various objectives of the free trade zone scheme.

He revealed that over $25 billion had come in through the scheme so far and lauded the Federal Government for the 50 megawatts of electricity allotted to the free zone.

Meanwhile, some free trade zone stakeholders called for various interventions in line with international best practices to address the challenges facing special economic zone operators in Nigeria.

Mr Toyin Elegbede, Executive Director, Nigeria Economic Zones Association, stressed the need for sensitization of stakeholders and interested investors to enable them to have a better understanding free trade zones operations.

“What also really matters is creating the right enabling environment for local and international investors to thrive, as free zones have been proven to drive economic growth and development,” he said.

Mr Olayinka Akande, Managing Director, Dangote, Free Zone, highlighted the need to fine-tune current operations to include digitalised and more transparent systems that ensured that all stakeholders had same set of directions at all times.

To this, Akande said a holistic portal that addresses every issue must be created, providing the same set of information to all stakeholders in real time to ease operations at the trade zones.

“Also, knowledge about free zones is still very sketchy to many people and this calls for the need to sensitise people on what free zones are and what the expectations are to meet up.

“Measures that tilt towards trade liberalization than towards revenue generation must be adopted.

“Government and management must periodically look at the provided incentives and guage their competitiveness elsewhere to preserve the incentives of the zones,” he said.

Mr Ashish khemka, Chief Financial Officer, Lagos Free Zone, noted that the success of many countries was based on development of free trade zones.

He said not enough had been done to make the value of the free trade zones in Nigeria emerge.

Khemka noted that lack of understanding, overlapping interventions of regulatory authorities and agencies hindered the success of free trade zones in Nigeria.

“There’s also need for the implementation of exchange policy into real action for the benefits of the trade zones to show,” he said.

Mrs Chinwe Ekekezie, Deputy Comptroller General, Excise Free Trade Zone, Nigeria Customs Service, said that custom duty procedure was set to be fully automated before the end of March.

Ekekezie said that going forward, the only time men and women of the service would go for physical checks at the free trade zones would be when in doubt.

She charged the public to draw the attention of the NCS to any illegalities by any of its officers to make sure the laws or reasons for creating the free zones are achieved. “There is however need for synergy, tolerance and purpose in addressing administrative challenges and this brings me to call for inter-agency cooperation among all stakeholders of the free trade zones,” she said.

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