Speakers at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Industry (UNCTAD) workshop have indicated that Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are crucial for pushing Africa’s industrialisation agenda in the context of the AfCFTA.
The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in collaboration with the Ghana Free Zones Authority, and was to afford participants an opportunity to deliberate on the engagement and commitment of SEZs in supporting economic development and industrialisation on the continent.
A speech read by Dr. John-Hawkins Asiedu, Technical Advisor at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, on behalf of the minister, Alan Kyeremanten, called for a strong long-term vision for the success of SEZs in the country and Africa, looking at the all-important role they play in industrialisation.
“They play a critical role in the provision of an exceptional and conducive environment for industrial development. They therefore act as a catalyst to achieving AfCFTA’s objective of promoting industrial development through diversification and value chain development, agricultural development and food security.
“To achieve this, there is need for a strong long-term vision and institutional support for the success of SEZs and development in Africa coupled with effective cooperation between different levels of government agencies and the private sector,” Mr. Kyeremanten noted.
Furthermore, SEZs are known to increase domestic and foreign direct investment (FDI) in economies due to their distinct regulatory regime and incentives. It is estimated that FDI inflows increased in Africa by 11% in 2018; and 80% and 60% of FDI inflows in 2018 to Egypt and Nigeria respectively are directed to the SEZs.
Giving a keynote address at the workshop on the theme ‘Special Economic Zones in Ghana as a Tool for Industrialization and Diversification’, Secretary-General, Africa Economic Zones Organisation, Ahmed Bennis, stressed that African Economic Zones remain catalysts for accelerating the continent’s industrialisation agenda – especially under the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“They are among the main devices to advance objectives of the AfCFTA in driving sustainable economic growth, job creation, investment promotion, trade liberalisation and regional integration and cooperation; along with the implementation of dedicated regulations which promote gender equality, capacity building and regional integration.
“The African SEZs are entitled to develop effective policies and strategies on trade facilitation, logistic competitiveness and supply chain, supporting the vision of creating one African market under the AfCFTA,” he said.
To turn this vision into a reality, Mr. Bennis noted that concrete practices and pragmatic actions should be considered by African SEZs, including: Supporting implementation of the AfCFTA and translation of its objectives into concrete actions led by African SEZs in terms of exports diversification, competitiveness, and go to market strategies; and reconciling national and regional development priorities in order to develop strong alliances and industrial complementarity between African SEZs.
CEO of Ghana Free Zones Authority (GFZA), Ambassador Michael Oquaye, in his address said most countries have converted to SEZs and government, through the Ministry of Trade and industry, is currently working on the national policy on establishment of SEZs in Ghana.
“There is a wave of change for SEZs which Ghana is also in the process of implementing; and it is expected that the GFZA will be rebranded as the SEZ implementing agency. However, for these SEZs to thrive there needs to be accessible markets for their products – and this is why the AfCFTA is crucial. The Regional Economic blocs and free trade areas are giving way to the continental free trade area, which provides a bigger market access.
“For the SEZs to succeed, however, there is a need to develop productive capacity by attracting firms in strategic sectors and industries. This will be the strategic focus of the Ghana SEZ as well as developing regional and continental value chains.
“Another bold step of government is establishing the Petroleum Hub Development Corporation with a mandate to create a petroleum hub SEZ on a 20,000-acre land at Jomoro in the Western Region of Ghana. The GFZA has also signed a PPP Agreement with a private developer to develop the Sekondi SEZ,” Amb. Ocquaye emphasised.