For decades, special economic zones (SEZs) have been quietly reshaping the world economy

Despite the apparent impact they are having on economic growth in the developing world, every major study conducted on the topic underscores one major problem: the chronic lack of data available regarding their planning, financing, development and operation. 

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As a research and business advisory firm working in the field of SEZs, the Adrianople Group is committed to solving this problem for the industry as a whole. On October 25, we launched the Open Zone Map, the first comprehensive and open-source interactive map of the world’s SEZs. With this, we aim to provide a guided tour into the nuanced field of special jurisdictions. It is a tool for investors, academics and practitioners to unpack the role that SEZs play in economic development across the globe.

When undertaking the project, we quickly realised the level of difficulty it represented. Many organisations and businesses have embarked on this journey in the past; all of them shelved the project because of the size and complexity of the datasets.

The project took a total of two years and the input of 36 researchers as we subjected more than 12,000 potential zone projects to our search criteria. With the launch of the Map, we have included approximately 5000 unique SEZs ranging from export-processing zones to charter cities.

This work has provided several insights. Over the past five years, more than 60 million jobs have been created across Africa as a result of support from SEZs in fields such as agro-processing. Privately operated SEZs in Panama and Costa Rica command the highest growth rates in Central America, and are closely connected to the development of regional value chains. And SEZs in the Caribbean region — typically small, privately managed business parks — are among the most advanced in terms of adopting modern technology and infrastructure for their tenants.

The launch of the Open Zone Map is just the beginning. Moving forward, Adrianople Group plans to expand the map with additional datasets to greatly increase the depth of knowledge available on zone projects. To this end, we are partnering with a wide variety of organisations that study, invest in and work on SEZs. We are incredibly excited to share our insights as we continue to research the global SEZ ecosystem. 

Preston Martin is co-founder of business intelligence advisory firm Adrianople Group

This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence magazine. Read the online edition here.