NEPZA, Cross Rivers govt agree on steps to revamp Calabar free trade zone

The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Cross Rivers government have agreed to take steps to immediately commence the revamping of the Calabar free trade zone.

The two authorities agreed on the measures to restore the status of the zone, when Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, the Managing Director of the Authority, paid the Cross Rivers State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, a courtesy visit on Thursday in Calabar.

Adesugba had embarked on a three-day working visit to Calabar to ascertain the state of the zone.

The managing director said there was an urgent need to restore the status of the zone in line with the initial thoughts of the Federal Government for it to be a special business enclave to spark up economic growth and industrialisation of both the southern region and the country as a whole.

Adesugba explained that the zone was now a shadow of its former self, adding that a total of 33 enterprises out of the about 65 in the zone had left.

“What we have seen is a sad commentary and measures must be taken very urgently by both the state and the Authority to revamp the zone.

“The status of Calabar as the first capital of the country and its location as a coastal city had encouraged the federal government to site the zone here in the first place, but the worst has happened here. It is about time we came together to change the narrative as the zone still holds a lot of promises,” he said.

Adesugba said the Authority was prepared to partner with the state to develop a workable strategy to reposition the zone, adding that a joint committee could be constituted to midwife the process.

“We have done a similar thing with the Lagos State Government and that has deepened the trust level between us and the state significantly. We will through this synergy begin to appreciate the free trade zone concept better.

“I will like to reiterate that the scheme is a global economic concept and not a Nigerian creation. If we can tame the zone very well, both the state and the country would experience unimaginable economic growth. The Cross Rivers State government must seek to leverage on the gains inherent in the scheme,” he said.

On the deplorable state of some of the federal roads in the state, the NEPZA Chief Executive said President Muhammadu Buhari had demonstrated the political will to rehabilitate most of the roads, adding that the state could also intervene to reduce the infrastructural deficit outside of the zone.

In his remarks, Governor Ayade, who was represented by his Deputy, Prof. Ivara Esu, commended the president for appointing Adesugba as head of NEPZA, adding that the development had re-awaken the interest of many investors in the scheme.

Ayade, said the Calabar free trade zone was meant to be the flagship of the country’s zones scheme, adding that the state was prepared to partner with NEPZA to tackle some of the challenges facing the zone.

The governor explained that the zone was a huge investment of the federal government that the state had helped to protect over the years, adding that urgent measures were truly required to salvage the zone.

“We are committed to joining forces with NEPZA and other relevant stakeholders to remodel the zone’s operations with a view to eliminating the encumbrances that continue to force investors out of the place,’’ Ayade said.

Meanwhile, the Authority had also agreed to partner with the Cross Rivers State Chamber of Commerce and the state branch of National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) to leverage on the platform provided by the Gulf of Guinea Commission to attract investment into the Calabar zone without further delay.

The NEPZA managing director made the remarks when Rt. Hon. John Gaul Lebo, the Cross Rivers State Special Envoy to the commission paid him a courtesy visit.

Adesugba said the commission was a union of countries within the gulf of guinea region that had agreed to trade among themselves, adding that the state and country could use the commission to improve trade relations with other members of the group.

On his part, Lebo said the state government took its membership of the commission seriously, adding that the commission was helping to open several business frontiers for the state.

Lebo said the Calabar free trade zone was strategically positioned to harbour foreign investors lurking around the state, noting that such investment cross-fertilizations were direct gains from the commission to the member states.

“There are investors from Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Soa Tome and Principe as well as Angola already in the state looking for investment opportunities. The zone with its lofty incentives remains the best place to receive these investments’’, Lebo said.

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