SFZMC plans to increase the amount of rentable space at the Garri free zone, 70 kilometres north of Khartoum, by 225 per cent.

The zone will cover 26 square kilometres, up from 8 square kilometres, and provide accommodation for 5,000 companies. The project is due to be completed in 2011.

‘We will start promoting the zone next year,’ says Mudathir Hassan, Garri free zone manager at SFZMC. ‘We expect it will take about five years to reach our target of 5,000 companies.’

The $35 million infrastructure development comprises a residential area, road-development programme and 100,000 square metres of warehousing.

Preliminary talks are under way with local banks to secure financing for the scheme.

It currently houses 953 companies, three quarters of which are local. The others are from 31 countries, predominantly in the Gulf and Asia.

Petrochemicals is the most heavily represented sector, because of the zone’s proximity to the country’s largest refinery, with areas also dedicated to packaging materials, food, financial services and pharmaceuticals.

Goods are exported to the nine countries bordering Sudan, particularly Ethiopia, with overseas exports of fruit and vegetables to the Gulf, cotton to Turkey, and oil seeds and beef to Europe.

Companies enjoy customs and tax benefits as well as tariff-free access to members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, a regional trade association.

Companies enjoy unrestricted ownership and money invested cannot be frozen or confiscated.