Frank Umeh a lawyer and Managing Director, Tradewinds Duty Free Market, Tinapa Free Trade zone, Calabar, in this interview offers insights into how the Tinapa free trade will be successful. He said he believes that Tinapa is a viable project and everyone should be thinking of how to make it do better than it is doing presently.
How would you describe doing business in Tinapa?
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Tinapa is a relatively new chapter in business in this clime. It is like a breath of fresh air. Tinapa is the only free trade zone in Nigeria today that is engaged in trade in finished goods. The trade in Tinapa involved importing goods from outside the country for onward distribution to either the local market or outside Nigeria. If you have customers from other countries outside Nigeria coming into Tinapa to buy, it becomes a form that Dubai takes. You have Nigerians going to Dubai to import goods into Nigeria.
In Tinapa, we have customers from different countries like Cameroun and even from the Equatorial Guinea coming in to do shopping. Then for the local economy, Nigerians come to Tinapa to make their purchases. Anytime you visit Tinapa, it is assumed that you have left the country. Trade in Tinapa has been good; it has been wonderful but it could be better.
What is your take on the operation of free trade zones in this country?
I have been a keen observer of the development in Tinapa free trade zone since it was commissioned. And my training as a lawyer is a leverage in the essence that one understands the legal framework involved. I have read several gazettes of other free trade zones within and outside this clime. I have travelled to Dubai and I have also heard much about the operations of the Dubai free trade zone.
When the Tinapa law was signed by the late President Umar Yar’Adua in 2009, I took time to read through the law and I saw the enormous potential and opportunity that Tinapa has for any serious trader that really wants to excel beyond the identified hiccups and difficulties in logistics in the importation of goods into the zone then.
I have read the law of Tinapa back to back and, therefore, conversant with the procedure. So, it’s been more of learning and practice. I believe that one needs to constantly update his knowledge in any field of endeavour he is into because when you stop reading, you start dying.
What informed your uncommon optimism that Tinapa free trade zone would be viabe?
I have studied the Tinapa project and I have come to the conclusion that it is a sound concept. The Free Zone was actually created to meet a need that had been identified.
Government didn’t just set up this zone for the sake of setting up a zone. But like every new concept, there are bound to be challenges especially in a unique environment like ours. For me, failure is not an option in this matter. Instead of asking if Tinapa will succeed or not, we should be thinking of how to make it successful even beyond the expectation of those behind it.
The targeted issue should be on how Tinapa can meet the needs for which it was established. And when you talk about those needs, you talk about the quality of goods, the manufacturers’ interest to look into the Nigerian trade, the image of the country, the collateral interests of the investors, the businessmen and the customers.
It should also be noted that there should be a three-fold approach to it: short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. So, I believe that Tinapa is a viable project and we have what it takes to make it do better than it is doing presently. And one step of ensuring success is through structural funding.
I’ve said it elsewhere that it’s not the kind of loan that you get from the bank. It’s a long-term funding plan; fund plan that that will make it attractive for the manufacturers to turn Tinapa into the primary market. From importing goods, manufacturers will come into Tinapa.
One advantage Tinapa has is that unlike UAE, which is all desert, and people must fly in to do business in Dubai, Tinapa is easily accessible. Tinapa is gold mine waiting to be tapped. I am passionate about getting the place to work because it will address the vicious cycle of economic, social and moral distress plaguing the country.
What is the attraction of doing business with you in Tinapa?
Some of the things we flaunt include capacity, integrity, knowledge, experience, quality and price of our goods. Our operation is beyond mere buying and selling. To start with, I have integrity to relate with you as a business person or customer. We have a commercial sales space of 10,000, an equivalent of two football fields put together. We know where those goods can be sourced. We provide logistics administration for all transit clearing services. We offer 24-hour trade services 356 days in a year.
In other words, Tradewinds do not sleep. We bring in goods that we consider to be of good quality and sell at a cheap price. In fact, we do discount sales on daily basis.
We believe in turnover rather than profit margin; we are content with marginal profit. Again, if you have problem with those goods, you have a window of returning it and we take it back from you. We offer efficient after – sales support framework, goods transport/ haulage deliver services, comprehensive insurance on all inland container haulage services from Onne Sea Port, Rivers State to Tinapa; trained and equipped security service staff; warehousing facility in Tinapa with storage capacity of over 300 tons containers; international subsidiary offices in UAE, China, Turkey and USA; highly experienced and dedicated management team; rescue operation vehicles for containers on inland transit; trade academy and practical training and mentorship for young people coming into business. Being where we are and doing what we are doing, we are operating at such levels that we can be compared with any other international entity in terms of how they do their business – the efficiency and know-how.