Special Economic Zones are not an end in themselves: Nigerian’s Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina

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On the third day of the Annual Meetings, panelists gathered for the “Special Economic Zone: Learning from Experience” session which looked at how African countries can adopt the Special Economic Zone philosophy to accelerate their economic growth.

Since 2009, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been set up in several African countries including Zambia, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria, and more are under preparation.

The jury, however, is still out: performance has been mixed and job creation has been limited.

The African Development Bank’s Strategy and Operational Policy Department is partnering with the China Center for Special Economic Zones Research at Shenzhen University to distil the lessons learned from the role Special Economic Zones have played in China’s economic transformation, and see how they can apply in Africa.

Sharing China’s experience, Yitao Tao from the Center for Special Economic Zone Research in Shenzhen University in China, said that one of the secrets of China’s phenomenal economic transformation in the past three decades – with growth averaging some 9% a year and as the country’s agricultural economy industrialised – has been the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

Yitao added that Shenzhen’s outstanding development over a comparatively short period gives the world an alternative a path out of widespread poverty via the strategy of unbalanced growth. “Shenzhen’s spirits of ‘daring to be the first’ offered inspirations to the overall reform and opening process in China.”

Rwanda’s Minister of Trade and Industry Francois Kanimba said that the idea of a SEZ in Rwanda came about in 2006, when the Government thought of building a Free Trade Zone, and an industrial zone on the adjacent side. “In 2010, we merged the two and created a Special Economic Zone, rethinking about what kind of activities should be eligible to be in the Zone.”

According to Minister Kanimba, given full occupancy rate of the current SEZ grounds, the Government of Rwanda decided to develop another 178 hectares, of which 60% has already been booked. “This is facilitating our ambitious objectives of attracting investors, many of whom are looking to Rwanda as a potential distribution zone in the region. We are yet to benefit from this SEZ.”

“SEZ is not an end in itself. For Africa, this is a good thing to do, but we must separate expectations from reality,” stressed Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

He further added that what Africans should be talking about is how to increase the general macro-economies so that the continent can compete in the global economy. “Agriculture is where we have a competitive advantage today. The critical issue is how we introduce a special model that works for us. SEZ is not the be-all and end-all. We have to think differently, we must have consolidated infrastructure, benefit from our agriculture and be able to compete in the global market.”

More than 3000 delegates are attending the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to discuss new strategies to tackle poverty, underdevelopment, and put their weight behind global negotiations to ensure the continent enters a new era.

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