INTERVIEW-Eritrea to launch Massawa, Assab free trade zones

Tue May 19, 2009 7:36am GMT

* Government says a dozen companies have registered

* Asmara seeks to capitalise on strategic location

By Andrew Cawthorne

ASMARA, May 19 (Reuters) - Eritrea intends to launch a free trade zone at Massawa on its Red Sea coast later this year, with a dozen firms already registered to operate in a venture Asmara hopes may help drive future economic growth.

The small Horn of African nation is also planning another free zone in Assab port, near the Djibouti border, as it seeks to take advantage of its strategic location next to bustling shipping lanes to-and-from the Suez Canal.

The Assab trade zone would start in 2010 and others are planned inland, including one for agro-industrial businesses on the border with Sudan, Eritrea Free Zones Authority's enthusiastic chief executive Araia Tseggai told Reuters.

"These could help transform the economy," said Tseggai, a U.S.-educated economist and banker who ran Eritrea's central bank for several years after Asmara won independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s.

"We are located in one of the busiest shipping zones in the world ... All ships pass by Assab. It's a captive audience," he added in an interview late on Monday.   Continued...

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