Senate yesterday passed for second reading a Bill providing for oil and gas export free zone, even as it passed for second reading, the Bill to regulate the application of biotechnology.
This followed the passing to second reading, the Bill seeking to establish the National Bio-Safety Management Agency (NBMA). The oil and gas export free zone bill if passed into law finally, seeks to amend the oil and gas export free zone authority Act to make consequential provisions to the Act for greater effectiveness and efficiency.
The bill was subsequently referred to the committee on Trade and Establishment for further legislative work. The Bill which was sponsored by Odion Ugbesia, also seeks the introduction of the right of workers in the zone to join trade union and bargain collectively which the principal Act abridged since inception of the free zones. He stated that free zones all over the world are instrumental in boosting industrial and economic growth, adding that this is why the federal government established the Onne Oil and Gas free zones. He also said this zone, among other things, provides greater level of foreign direct investment, technology transfer, manpower development, provision of employment opportunities and greater economic self-reliance.
“Our free trade zones are far from achieving the purpose for which they were established and there are serious doubt as to whether Nigeria has indeed benefitted from the Onne Oil and Gas free zone beyond the benefit accruable to an industrial area. “This is the result of weak regulatory framework guiding the operations of free zones in Nigeria”, he said.
He further explained that the most attractive feature of a free zone globally is the tax holiday which investors enjoy as incentive and encouragement for investment, saying this amendment provides for these incentives.
Meanwhile, the bio safety agencies bill seeks to address the National Bio-safety requirements and regulate the practice of modern biotechnology and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) to ensure safety to the environment and human health. In a lead debate, the sponsor of the Bill, Domingo Obende (APC-Edo) said the Bill would apply to safety administration of any activity of importing, exporting GMOs and the products derived into and out of the country.
He noted that the absence of Bio-safety law had hampered research and development in modern biotechnology in Nigeria. “A Bio-safety law will, therefore, enable our research institutes to carry out their statutory functions. The Bio-safety Bill will address issues concerning food security, health issues, diagnostic, and environmental problems like desertification, soil erosion etc”, he explained.