Available data reveal that companies operating under the Ghana Free Zones Board (GFZB) have generated a total of $30.9 billion from exports as of the end of 2016 since the programme started in 1996.
This means that on the average, the companies generated $1.5 billion from exports each year for the two decades of operations.
The economy is still developing, and the need for export earnings to support national expenditure, which is substantially denominated in convertible currency, is so overwhelming.
Analysts believe that if the Free Zones Concept was effectively rolled out and roped in Ghanaian entrepreneurs, the impact on stability of the cedi, growth of the economy, job creation, among others, would have been felt better.
According to the data, capital investments by Free Zones companies between 1996 and 2016 also amounted to US$3.4 billion.
As of the end of 2016, companies operating under the Free Zones employed 30,357 workers, comprising 29,215 Ghanaians and 1,142 expatriates.
Last year, while capital invested amounted to some $270.72 million, value of exports hit $2.3 billion.
Latest data indicates that, in all, 201 companies are operating under Free Zones, made up of 65 companies located at the Tema Enclave and 136 Single Factory Enterprises spread all over Ghana.
By the end of last year, 56 of the companies, constituting 28% of all Free Zones
companies, were wholly-Ghanaian owned.
41% of companies owned by foreigners
On the other hand, 82 of the companies, representing 41%, are wholly-owned by foreigners.
According to the data, 63 companies, constituting 31%, are joint ventures between Ghanaians and foreigners.
Executive Secretary of GFZB, Michael Okyere Baafi explained that combining both enclave and single factory enterprise schemes in the completely private sector-driven programme means the whole Ghana is accessible to potential investors.
He announced that the Board would purposefully open several independent offices across the country, which would carry out the same functions for the secretariat, with branches in Kumasi and Tamale to accommodate investment projects around these areas.
He stated that the Board is introducing speed as a business strategy to improve on quality of service delivery with regard to license application processes, exemption application processes, visa application and renewal processes, and vehicle registration processes.
Baafi disclosed that the Board was in discussions with two banks in the country to set up an offshore bank operating as a Free Zone entity, with special emphasis on the Bank of Ghana’s regulations.
This, he said, would allow flexible transactions and facilitate in managing investors’ financial commitments, and also allow investors to freely import, as well as export funds, provided it will not contradict the GFZB and Bank of Ghana regulations.
The Executive Secretary said the Board would put up a multi-purpose office to let to investors who may not have offices to operate from.
Baafi said the Board intends to build state-of-the-art Export Processing Zones (EPZ), which is expected to support light and heavy industrial specific businesses.
He announced that the Board recently acquired specific enclaves in Bomfah (Ashanti Region), Obomeng-Kwahu (Eastern Region) and Pong Tamale (Northern Region), and is in the process of acquiring lands in all the regions of Ghana by the close of the year.
The operations of Free Zones companies have undoubtedly augmented the contribution of both traditional and non-traditional export-oriented activities to the nation’s socio-economic development.
Ghana’s strategic location as a middle coastal belt country, with two ports (Tema and Takoradi) serving the landlocked countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and beyond) in the sub-region, makes it an ideal location to set up industries to supply the West African market of around 300 million people.
The main idea of establishing the Free Zones is to develop Ghana into a hub for manufacturing and processing through value addition for export.
The Free Zones Programme focuses on development through exports, to encourage investors to produce goods and services for export-oriented development.
Through this, Ghana can gradually move away from an exporter of raw materials to an exporter of value-added goods and services to enable her compete keenly with other emerging economies and entrench its position in the global marketplace.
The Tema Export Processing Zone has a land capacity of 1,200 acres and the occupancy rate of 92 companies.
Shama enclave, which had the largest acreage of land of about 3,000 acres, and Eshiem enclave would specifically cater for oil companies.
The Kumasi enclave, which covers 1,099 acres, would be used mainly for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development, and as a result, the plot of land had been acquired strategically close to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to provide the necessary expertise to enhance its development.
People could invest in as ICT, agro-processing, seafood processing, metal and hand tool fabrication, floriculture, jewellery/handicraft production and textile/apparel manufacturing.
Others are pharmaceuticals, light industry/assembly plant and ethnic beauty products.