…business, jobs coming into a depressed economy
The World Free Zones Organization (WFZO), a body created to represent the interests of free zones around the world, would be establishing a regional office in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital and Nigeria’s oil hub. It would be the first of such in all of West Africa.
The WFZO was launched in Dubai, in May 2014 by its 14 founding members. Today, membership of the body stands at 400.
The first free zone in the world was created at the Shannon Airport, Ireland in 1959, Today, there are an estimated 2,260 free zones around the world, which support approximately 70 million jobs, said Samir Hamrouni, chief executive officer of WFZO.
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The decision by WFZO to site a regional office in Port Harcourt was made during a three-day business seminar in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in May, where Nigerian representatives agreed to bring WFZO to Port Harcourt to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).
According to him, when the WFZO regional office fully settles for business in the oil city, its multiplier effect would lead to establishment of clusters of free zones and ancillary businesses, thereby creating about 25,000 jobs in the state and the country in general.
Possible clusters could be around the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, which is also near the two 220,000 barrels per day Port Harcourt refineries at Alesa Eleme, Indorama’s multi-billion-dollar Petrochemicals and Fertilizer plants, as well as Notore’s fertilizer plant.
Another cluster could be at Mbiama, a boundary community between Rivers and Bayelsa states. Here, there are booming plantain and banana businesses.
The nation stands to gain some economic traction from the WFZO entry, if the Federal Government can create the right operating environment for the free zone group.
The global organization said it also chose Port Harcourt because of ongoing infrastructural development (roads, bridges, health care, education and electrification) by the Nyesom Wike administration.
The oil-rich city boasts of an international airport and two seaports, which are the basic requirements for the location of such office, it was gathered.
Ambakaderimo noted that WFZO’s appetite for Nigeria is the country’s attractive large market status in Africa, and therefore, deserves to have a regional office of the free zones body. Later, the organization heads to open another headquarters in Morocco, North Africa’s economic giant.
He called on government to move up to adapt to the next generation of free zones, which is technologically driven, already operating in many countries around the world.
“The world is changing. We cannot continue to sit on the edge. This is a world of technology. As a country, we must encourage our people to be trained in technology, so that they can meet up with the fast-technological advancement. Most businesses today are done online, without necessarily traveling thousands of kilometers to transact business. The virtual office and e-commerce is fast changing the face of doing businesses,” he said.
Ambakederimo however, called on the Federal Government authorities to create a different ministry besides the Commerce and Industry, that will take regulate the activities of free trade zones, since these are a catalyst for economic development and easy attraction to FDIs.