Global winners

Winner – DMCC, United Arab Emirates


For the fifth consecutive year, DMCC of the United Arab Emirates has outperformed all other entrants to be awarded the title of fDi’s Global Free Zone of the Year for 2019. The zone is home to more than 16,000 companies, which employ some 60,000 people, and is strategically located in the heart of Dubai, offering investors a broad range of potential customers and service providers on their doorstep. The collective economic impact of DMCC’s member companies represents a contribution of more than 10% towards Dubai’s GDP.

Several prestigious multinational companies across a range of sectors joined DMCC in 2018, including Edelman, AmCham, Kentech, Mahindra and Engie. DMCC is committed to converting leads into licences by investing heavily in its digital transformation strategy, prioritising customer services and drastically reducing the bureaucracy connected with setting up a business. Its Sales Transformation initiative was launched in 2018, shortening on-boarding turnaround time, documentation requirements, the know your customer process, and automated third-party approval processes. Other initiatives launched in 2018 include the DMCC Help Centre, a one-stop online platform through which members can find all relevant frequently asked questions, guidelines, videos and policies, and the Cost Calculator tool, which helps estimate the cost of setting up a business in the free zone.

Highly commended – Katowice Special Economic Zone, Poland

Katowice Special Economic Zone has been highly commended in this year’s awards. Since the beginning of 2018, the zone has attracted 66 new projects and €1.14bn in new investment across a range of sectors including automotive, metallurgical, chemical, plastics and food processing. The zone, which is located in the Śląskie and Opolskie provinces, benefits from robust logistics infrastructure, including two motorways, a railway network, three international airports, an inland port and a transhipment terminal nearby. It also cites its highly qualified labour market, investment land infrastructure and availability of industrial and office buildings as reasons to invest. In the past year the zone, in co-operation with local partners, has invested more than €14m in preparing investment land and extended its properties by 30% (the equivalent of 773.4 hectares).

Regional winners

Winner: Africa – Tanger Med Zones, Morocco


Tanger Med Zones has been crowned Africa’s winner. Strategically located on the Strait of Gibraltar and at the conjunction of major maritime routes, the zone offers access to target markets in both Europe and Africa. It is home to more than 900 companies in various sectors such as automotive, aeronautics, logistics and textiles. Tanger Med Zones attracted several new investments from companies including Valeo, Magneti Marelli and Varroc. Investors continue to settle in the zone due to its ‘plug and play’ policy, highly skilled and multilingual talent pool and attractive tax regime exoneration.

Highly commended: Africa – Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, Djibouti

A newcomer to fDi’s Global Free Zones of the Year awards, Djibouti International Free Trade Zone (DIFTZ) has been highly commended among African zones. Since opening in July 2018, DIFTZ has welcomed more than 50 companies working in the logistics, manufacturing and energy sectors including Safa Group, Soram Industries and China Merchants. The overall vision is to develop further complementary services and initiatives for those operating in DIFTZ, including a major industrial zone, a financial zone and a business leisure district. The first of these to come to fruition will be the industrial zone, which will include a ship repair facility, dry docks and a multipurpose port. It will also enhance trade in the Horn of Africa and expand the country’s economic diversification, building on five major pillars of industry: energy, petrochemicals, metal forging, maritime and building materials.

Winner: Asia-Pacific – Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines

Subic Bay Freeport Zone has been named the top free zone for the Asia-Pacific region. The former US naval base is a hub for tourism, industrial, commercial and financial investment, and multinationals including Hitachi Mechatronics, Citic Hotel and PTT Thailand have chosen to locate in the zone. In order to facilitate future expansion, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) sought the co-operation of neighbouring local government units to secure additional areas for development. After a series of dialogues and consultations, the SBMA received pledges to allocate more 21,000 hectares for the zone’s expansion.                            

Highly commended: Asia-Pacific – Mundra Special Economic Zone, India      

Mundra Special Economic Zone is India’s largest port-based, notified and functional, multi-product special economic zone. Located on the western coast of India in the Gulf of Kutch, the zone is home to major multinationals such as Thermax and Britannia Industries. Initiatives have been taken to further bolster logistics infrastructure at the site, including the establishment of a new liquefied natural gas- and liquefied petroleum gas-handling terminal, which ensures the availability of raw material for the units. In addition, a 21-kilometre railway connection has been established to connect Mundra SEZ to the nearest railway head and to Adani Logistics, a sister company of the zone. Sector-specific clusters for textiles, chemicals, electronics and warehousing are currently being developed within the zone.

Winner: Europe – Katowice Special Economic Zone, Poland

(See Global awards)

Highly commended: Europe – Łódź Special Economic Zone, Poland               

Łódź Special Economic Zone’s forward-thinking approach to increasing tenant numbers is evident in its initiatives, which include the StartUpSpark2.0 accelerator, Strefa RozwoYou training programme and the implementation of 5G technology. In 2018, one-third of investment projects in the zone were from existing clients, further bolstering its reputation as a place where investors want to expand their business. Germany-based Haering, a producer of detailed parts for major automotive brands including Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen, invested almost €58m to expand its operations and now employs more than 2150 workers in the zone. Investment shows no sign of slowing and, within the next three to four years, the zone is planning to fully use the 8000-square-metre investment plot located next to its headquarters in Łódź city centre to construct additional office and conference space.

Winner: Americas – Zona Franca de Bogotá, Colombia

Zona Franca de Bogotá has been named the leading free zone for the Americas. In 2018, more than one-quarter of all companies in the zone were multinationals from a range of industries including business, IT and knowledge process outsourcing, data centre services and the industrial sector. The zone has launched a portfolio of consulting and training programmes aimed at strengthening the competitiveness of companies in Zona Franca de Bogotá and other free zones. Through its Unifranca educational alliance with seven universities and the National Learning Service, 24 titled training programmes are offered as well as the ZFB Bilingual Programme and more than 2500 people are trained in areas including updating tax, logistics and foreign trade issues. Employees in the zone also have access to the ‘Rutas Tu Zona’ shared mobility programme and a wellness centre, which features a gym and leisure classes. In terms of sustainability, the zone forms part of the steering committee of the local network of the UN Global Compact in Colombia.

Highly commended: Americas – Panamá Pacífico, Panama                                          

More than 280 companies, ranging from start-ups to multinationals, have established operations in Panamá Pacífico and employ more than 10,000 staff. Due to the zone’s public-private partnership, investors are afforded comprehensive government support with 17 entities in situ for administrative, fiscal, customs, migratory and labour procedures. The quality of infrastructure within the zone ranks consistently among the highest in Central America, with ports, airports, continental highways and the Panama Canal in close proximity. The zone also offers residential benefit programmes with access to beaches, restaurants and national parks among other recreational activities.

Winner: Middle East – DMCC, UAE

(See Global awards)

Highly commended: Middle East – Jebel Ali Free Zone, UAE

Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) contributes more than 23.8% to Dubai’s GDP, generating $93bn-worth of trade and sustaining more than 135,000 jobs. As a leading business hub between Asia, Europe and Africa, and with a history of more than three decades, Jafza focuses on long-term customer relationships. Jafza builds alliances with global investors by providing them with world-class infrastructure and support. Major names include Adidas, ArcelorMittal, General Motors and Siemens. About 460 tenants have expanded their facility sizes over the past year. Its Workforce Protection Programme will bring added benefits to employees across the zone and infuse $354m back into Dubai's economy. Jafza has also waived $9.53m in customer fines to create a business environment that promotes growth and reduces costs and is now offering five- and 10-year visas to entrepreneurs and specialist in-demand talents, which will bolster workforce retention.

SME winners

Winner: Global – DMCC, UAE

DMCC recognises that SMEs are the backbone of Dubai's economy and as such has accelerated efforts to attract and support them. The zone launched several key initiatives in 2018 to enhance choice and efficiency for its members, including its Made for Trade Live international roadshow, its Sales Transformation scheme, and the online DMCC Help Centre. DMCC has also collaborated with leading property developer Emaar to introduce the United Arab Emirates' first work-from-home project. This unique opportunity allows investors in Emaar co-living communities to obtain a company incorporation and a three-year business licence residence visa and operate their business from the comfort of their own home. With the rise of freelancers and flexible working schedules, this ownership scheme has already had more than 200 investors involved to date. DMCC also hosts Astrolabs, the only Google tech hub in the Middle East and north Africa region, which is home to more than 160 start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Highly commended: Global – Łódź Special Economic Zone, Poland

In 2018, Łódź Special Economic Zone completed construction of a 12,270-square-metre warehouse and production space consisting of eight 1270-square-metre modules to fulfil SME demand for light production space. Due to growing demand from investors, including Japan-based food manufacturer Takaokaya, the zone is already planning to build another facility. Łódź SEZ also bolsters support through its Strefa RozwoYou training programme, which distributes training vouchers to cover up to 80% of financing for training, coaching and/or postgraduate studies for SME employees. Start-ups can also benefit from financial assistance and business expertise through the StartupSpark2.0 and S5 accelerators.

Winner: Africa – Tanger Med Zones, Morocco

Tanger Med Zones has been named Africa’s best free zone for SME companies and hosted more than 54 new SME projects in 2018. It provides small rental spaces dedicated to start-ups in its offshoring services area and has organised multiple workshops and fairs to help foster growth and enhance their business network connections. Tanger Med Zones also offers access to its freight community exchange website, a new mutual service that simplifies the connection between SMEs and tenants already set up for logistic services.

Highly commended: Africa – Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, Djibouti

Djibouti International Free Trade Zone has a range of initiatives and incentives designed to support new companies, including SMEs, and ensure they are fully integrated into, and benefit from, Djibouti’s infrastructure network. Its Port Community System programme, launched in July 2018, offers a paperless tool for single-point entry, thus reducing regulatory burdens on smaller companies. Tenants in Djibouti Free Trade Zone benefit from: 0% tariff measures; 0% corporate income tax; 0% personal income tax for foreign employees; 0% VAT; 0% property tax; 0% dividend tax; and a stable local currency pegged to the US dollar.

Winner: Asia-Pacific – Turkistan Special Economic Zone, Kazakhstan

Turkistan Special Economic Zone has been named the leading free zone in the Asia-Pacific region for SME tenants. The zone offers several programmes specifically for SMEs, including 21 state grants and five regional grants, as well as support programmes and loans with low-interest rates and deferred payment options. Initially, the industrial zone of the SEZ consisted of 36.67 million square metres of greenfield land but in order to attract start-ups and SMEs, an additional 343,741 square metres of old factory space was adjoined, which has ready-to-use buildings and is currently undergoing modernisation.

Highly commended: Asia-Pacific – Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority partnered with the Land Bank of the Philippines to provide loan facilities to SMEs and other logistics-focused companies as part of the agency’s port marketing initiative.

Winner: Europe – Łódź Special Economic Zone, Poland

(See Global awards)

Highly commended: Europe – Free Port of Ventspils, Latvia

Free Port of Ventspils offers municipality support and business incubation services for start-ups and SMEs. This includes round-the-clock free service at the zone’s Business Support Centre and Business Incubator, and a support package including access to co-working space and office premises. Free Port of Ventspils has a close co-operation with its local government, which provides a good foundation for entrepreneurship and for implementing business-friendly policies. The zone is currently implementing an ICT industry growth strategy to support ICT start-ups.

Winner: Americas – Corporación Zona Franca Santiago, Dominican Republic

Corporación Zona Franca Santiago was judged the best free zone in the Americas region for SMEs. The zone offers a specific entrepreneurship programme for SMEs as well as the Altice StarLab Bootcamp, which aims to support those with entrepreneurial spirit to transform their technology-based ideas into businesses. Its annual ‘Futuros Empresarios’ programme is aimed at the children of employees of companies in the Víctor Espaillat Mera Industrial Park and other northern free zones. Zona Franca Santiago also supports clients throughout the legal and permitting process and its Cegesta Talent Management Centre aims to simplify and accelerate the recruitment process for companies in the zone.

Highly commended: Americas – Zona Franca de Bogotá, Colombia

In 2018, Zona Franca de Bogotá launched its ‘Zona de Enlace’ initiative, which aims to help 41 small businesses from five locations across western Bogotá to reach their potential. With the support of local experts from the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, the companies focus on strengthening their administrative, financial and innovation capabilities, before establishing commercial ties to sell their products and services to the companies in the zone.

Winner: Middle East – DMCC, UAE

(See Global awards)

Highly commended: Middle East – Kizad, UAE

In the third quarter of 2018, Kizad launched its Entrepreneurship and Incubation Centre, offering cost-effective work spaces, offices and licensing options to enhance the entrepreneurship and SME ecosystem in the United Arab Emirates and support Abu Dhabi’s economic vision. Businesses can be set up at the centre in just 24 hours, then connect with like-minded individuals to collaborate and innovate at a competitive cost. Following local government directives, to support start-ups and SMEs, Kizad now offers business licences at no cost for the first two years of operations. In addition, the dual-licensing system enables free zone companies to apply for an additional domestic economic zone licence at a nominal cost so they can offer their services outside the zone.

Large Tenants winners

Winner: Global – Free Port of Ventspils, Latvia   

Free Port of Ventspils has been named the top global free zone for large tenants, following a 46% increase in its industrial output compared with 2017. Ventspils is part of one of the most cost-effective territories in Europe and offers several tax incentives. The zone also provides tailor-made facilities and ready-for-development sites for potential clients, plus user-specific infrastructure including all underground infrastructure, fibre-optic cables and approach roads. Construction of new units will increase the zone’s rentable industrial space by 25%, and represents an investment of $12.9m.

Highly commended: Global – Tanger Med Zones, Morocco

Tanger Med Zones is a global logistics gateway connected to 186 ports worldwide and provides a processing capacity of 9 million containers, 7 million passengers, 700,000 trucks and 1 million vehicles. The zone is currently developing an additional 220-hectare extension to be delivered by the end of 2019, and has more than 45 plants under construction for its tenants.

Winner: Africa – Tanger Med Zones, Morocco

(See Global awards)    

Highly commended: Africa – Onne Oil & Gas Free Zone, Nigeria

Onne Oil & Gas Free Zone is a hub for oil and gas activities in sub-Saharan Africa and has attracted several of the world’s largest oil companies, including Total and ExxonMobil. Investors have access to numerous business, financial, customs and immigration incentives, including zero corporate tax, 100% foreign ownership and free movement in and out of the zone. Onne Oil & Gas Free Zone promotes its activities by attending and organising oil and gas-related conferences and exhibitions.

Winner: Asia-Pacific – Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone, China

Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone has been recognised as the best free zone for large tenants in the Asia-Pacific region. Located in one of the fastest growing regions in China, the Yangtze River Delta, the zone attracted investment from several multinationals including Siemens, Mitsubishi, RWE and Arrow Electronics. The zone aligns its development with China’s national strategic plan to develop Shanghai into an international economic, financial, trading and shipping centre and makes determined efforts to facilitate business registration, operation and retention. By the end of the first quarter of 2019, 99 multinational corporations had set up their Asia-Pacific headquarters in the zone, more than anywhere else in mainland China.

Highly commended: Asia-Pacific – Special Economic Zone Pavlodar, Kazakhstan

Special Economic Zone Pavlodar is one of the largest and most successful investment areas in Kazakhstan. The zone spans 1200 hectares and is home to 30 companies including the multinationals Chimec, Posco and China Machinery Engineering Corporation. Investors benefit from tax exemptions, provision of land for free, low tariffs for public utilities, proximity to the Russian, Chinese and central Asian markets, and accessibility to mineral resources. In May 2019, SEZ Pavlodar became the regional office for the World Free Zones Organization in Central Asia.

Winner: Europe – Free Port of Ventspils, Latvia

(See Global awards)

Highly commended: Europe – Wałbrzych Special Economic Zone Invest-Park, Poland

The automotive industry is the leading sector in Wałbrzych Special Economic Zone Invest-Park, securing investment from corporations including Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen. Located in south-west Poland, the zone benefits from a long regional tradition of industrial production and proximity to Germany and the Czech Republic. In addition to income tax exemptions and attractive investment plots, Wałbrzych SEZ offers administrative, human resources and accounting support and access to a network of reliable professional suppliers and partners.

Winner: Americas – Zona Franca de Bogotá, Colombia

Zona Franca de Bogotá has been named best free zone for large tenants in the Americas. The zone plays host to numerous industrial companies such as Daimler, DHL and Fibertex. In 2018, the zone received the ‘Partners in Logistics’ award from Kuehne + Nagel in recognition of its work on the challenges posed by the logistics sector on the global environment. It is the largest free zone in Latin America in logistics processes and, by the end of 2018, had originated more than 237,000 foreign trade operations.

Highly commended: Americas – Panamá Pacífico, Panama

Various multinationals including Maersk, PPG Industries, Dell, FedEx, Lacoste and PepsiCo have operations in Panamá Pacífico. Investors benefit from good telecommunications and logistics infrastructure as well as class A offices and warehouses. The PanAmerican Corporate Centre, an industrial area of 96 hectares located in the western area of the zone, is home to international companies in the hi-tech manufacturing and logistics services sectors, such as 3M, J Cain, 3PL, BASF and TLA, among others. The project has developed about 210,000 square metres of space. An additional 15-hectare area is currently being developed, about 85,000 square metres of which will be arranged into six warehouses that will have access roads, loading platforms and parking lots for employees.

Winner: Middle East – Jebel Ali Free Zone, UAE

Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) has been crowned the Middle East’s best free zone for large tenants. Multinationals such as BASF, China Cosco Shipping, Ericsson, Hitachi and Indian Oil have operations in the zone, whose quality-driven value-added services and incentives enable customers to access huge business opportunities in the region with ease and efficiency. Jafza’s integrated one-stop shop for trade and logistics has helped it repurpose its value proposition for companies operating out of the zone and is now an integral part of DP World’s strategic focus on a phased growth journey across its business divisions globally.

Highly commended: Middle East – Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone, UAE

Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (Rakez) is home to more than 14,500 companies spanning 100 different countries including Ashok Leyland, Franke and Knauf. Multinationals have chosen Rakez due to its cost-effectiveness, since setting up and operating in the zone can be up to 50% cheaper than in other zones in the region. Investors can also benefit from fully customisable support based on their own needs. In 2018, Rakez implemented measures to improve the ease of doing business in the zone, including opening three new service centres providing a one-stop experience, and the launch of Portal 360, an online self-service platform that offers clients access to its services 24/7.

Specialism awards

Agribusiness – ZPE Uberaba, Brazil

More than 100 companies in ZPE Uberaba work in the meat business, from livestock genetic improvement, products and services to commodities and technology. Well-known fertiliser brands Yara, Mosaic and FMC have also invested in the zone, while VLI is also planning to open a new intermodal hub specifically designed to handle cargo such as grains and sugar.

Aluminium – Special Economic Zone Pavlodar, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s aluminium production is centred in the Pavlodar region due to an abundance of bauxite. Special Economic Zone Pavlodar has attracted numerous investors in the aluminium sector including Kazfoil, a manufacturer of aluminium foil with an annual production capacity of 25,000 tonnes, and JSC Aluminum of Kazakhstan, which produces 1.5 million tonnes of aluminium oxide a year.

Appliances – Łódź Special Economic Zone, Poland

Since the zone’s launch in 1997, more than 20 companies from the household appliances sector have invested in the Łódź Special Economic Zone, including Whirpool, Miele and BSH, creating more than 5000 jobs. Łódź SEZ actively aims to attract new companies and their suppliers to the zone. In 2018, UK-based Hellyar Plastics invested more than €4.2m in a new factory, stating that the Łódź region is the centre of home appliances production in Poland and throughout Europe. In May 2019, the zone co-organised the second Household Appliance Congress, the largest CEO summit in the industry. More than 300 guests attended the event to exchange ideas and discuss topics crucial for the sector with important representatives and experts, including government representatives.

Automotive – Tanger Med Zones, Morocco

Tanger Med Zones hosts the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance Plant, which is Africa’s largest automotive plant with a total production capacity of 450,000 cars a year. Thanks to Tanger Med Zone’s automotive cluster, Morocco is the top country in Africa in the automotive industry and fifth largest automotive exporter to Europe worldwide.

Aviation – Liepaja Special Economic Zone, Latvia

Liepaja International Airport is integrated with Liepaja Special Economic Zone and offers daily flights operated by airBaltic airlines. In connection with the airport’s runway renovation and upcoming technical training programme, airBaltic Pilot Academy has decided to open a new flight base and aircraft maintenance centre in the coming years to service Boeing aircraft.

Business process outsourcing – Zona Franca Santander, Colombia

Two of the largest companies in Zona Franca Santander are in the customer services sector. Majorel (formerly Arvato) was the zone’s first foreign investor and anchor company in the global services sector, while Accedo was the first major English-speaking operation in the region, providing live chat and telephone support to companies in Europe and the US. Under agreements established by Majorel, Accedo, SENA and the government of Santander, several bilingual courses have been introduced, improving the offering of qualified staff for its call centres.

Financial and professional services – Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone, UK

Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone has been instrumental in supporting the expansion of key growth sectors in the city. In October 2018, banking giant HSBC relocated its UK headquarters from London to Birmingham and already employs more than 2500 staff at the new head office. In 2019, multinational professional services company PwC will relocate to the One Chamberlain Square building in the Paradise development, attracted by the high-quality office space, central location and support from the zone’s relocation service. Projects such as these contribute to the city’s position as a leading business, professional and financial services hub.

IT – Innopolis SEZ, Russia

More than 16,000 highly skilled IT specialists nationwide are willing to relocate to Innopolis and are awaiting jobs and housing to become available. More than 150 IT specialists graduate from Innopolis University every year, 95% of whom take up their first employment with a company in the zone. A new industrial park is currently under development that aims to attract IT-related manufacturing companies in areas such as robotics, microelectronics, additive technologies and prototyping.

Knowledge process outsourcing and IT outsourcing – Zona Franca de Bogotá, Colombia

Zona Franca de Bogotá offers flexible, scaleable and turnkey real estate solutions for business process outsourcing, IT outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing companies. Investors including UK-based multinational telecoms company BT, Spain-based business process management company Digitex and Brazil-based IT management company Tivit have established operations in the zone.

Logistics – Liepāja Special Economic Zone, Latvia

Liepāja Port is the fastest growing port in the Baltic Sea region. Its cargo turnover increased by 16% in 2017 and 14.4% in 2018 to reach a record 7.53 million tonnes. There are five active business parks, offering almost 400,000 square metres of production facilities. The port’s stevedoring companies have built new warehouses and open storage areas and can provide multimodal logistics solutions. Production output in Liepāja SEZ is growing on average by more than 10% annually, and reached €271m in 2018.

Medical devices – Coyol Free Zone, Costa Rica

Since its launch in 2007, Coyol Free Zone has hosted 28 leading global companies, seven of which were ranked among the top 30 medical device companies in the world. Coyol Free Zone has the highest concentration of the top medical devices companies in all Latin America and exported more than $1.98m in 2018, representing 1.2% of Costa Rica’s GDP. Medical devices are the top export product in Costa Rica and the zone represents 63% of all medical device exports, a figure that is expected to grow.

Oil and gas – Onne Oil & Gas Free Zone, Nigeria

Onne Oil & Gas Free Zone is the only free trade zone dedicated exclusively to the oil and gas industry. Several oil majors have established operations in the zone, including Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Chevron and ExxonMobil. These multinationals benefit from the zone’s strategic location adjacent to the Niger Delta, which holds one of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, and easy accessibility to other production locations in sub-Saharan Africa. The zone is near an international airport and boasts a helipad to sustain its daily offshore operations.

Pharmaceuticals – Special Economic Zone St Petersburg, Russia

Novartis is one of the largest companies in Special Economic Zone St Petersburg, investing more than $150m in its production complex. At total capacity, the factory can produce 1.5 billion units of solid dosage forms per year and in the future, will develop more than 20 innovative drugs and generics. Currently, the factory employs 174 people, and eventually expects to employ more than 350 staff.

Robotics – Daegu-Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone, South Korea

South Korea-based robot company Samick THK has recently agreed to invest $15m in Daegu-Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone. As demand for its products grows, the company expects to establish a robotics cluster in Daegu.  

Steel – Arvand Free Zone, Iran

Steel is a priority sector for the Arvand Free Zone. Kaveh Arvand Steel Co is planning to expand its operations in the zone and will construct direct reduction units with a steel-making capacity of 2 million tonnes and heavy rolling stock, with a capacity of 1.4 million tonnes per year.

Textiles – Special Economic Zone Ontustik, Kazakhstan

Special Economic Zone Ontustik, located in the Yenbekshy district of Shymkent, is fast becoming a hub for the textiles industry, attracting investment from companies in various sub-sectors. These include Ekohim, a manufacturer of synthetic ropes, cords, laces and netting; Azala Cotton, a producer of mixed yarn; SG Style, which sews men’s suits; and Ongud Group, a manufacturer of footwear and other leather goods.

Editor’s choice awards

Export boosters       

In 2018, Free Port of Ventspils saw a 46% increase in its industrial output compared with 2017 and experienced the highest growth of exports per capita out of all of Latvia’s major cities. Almost 90% of all production was exported, the zone’s best performance since 2002 when its industrialisation policy was launched. Oman’s Sohar Free Zone has also been highlighted as an export booster, having recently signed an agreement with Al Tamman Indsil FerroChrome for the expansion of the company’s facility in Sohar to produce 112,500 tonnes of ferrochrome per year, and with Sanvira Industries for the construction of a new calcined petroleum coke plant. The zone’s Port South expansion boosts the zone’s reputation as a logistics hub in the region and will increase trade flows in Oman. Tanger Med Zones in Morocco has grown its total export turnover from €7.2bn in 2017 to €8.3bn in 2018. Major manufacturers currently destock in the zones, including brands in the automotive, aeronautic, renewable energy, textile and logistics sectors such as Bosch, Siemens, Valeo, Renault, Magneti Marelli and Denso.

Freezone 4.0 

Zona Franca de Bogotá has been awarded the Freezone 4.0 award. During 2018, the zone started the Free Trade Zones 4.0 movement, with the objective of transforming free zones into maximum competitive environments through AI, automation and analytical projects. The zone also received a Building Performance Institute certification from Icontec and the Chamber of Commerce of Bogotá for its innovative practices, the first and only free-trade zone in Colombia to do so. Zona Franca de Bogotá has high levels of connectivity, with 15 broadband operators, and offers flexible, scaleable and turnkey real estate solutions for business process outsourcing, IT outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing companies. It also has five data centres, four of which have been granted tier three certification by the Uptime Institute. 

Gateway award        

The inauguration of Djibouti International Free Trade Zone in 2018 has placed Djibouti at the forefront of the African continental free-trade movement. Positioned on the world’s busiest maritime trade routes, the zone has received the Gateway award in recognition of its facilitation of global trade to reach the African continent. Supported by the country’s $15bn world-class multimodal infrastructure network, Djibouti International Free Trade Zone offers companies access to at least 13 landlocked African countries and free trade networks across Africa. Hamriyah Free Zone, the second largest and fastest growing industrial free zone in the the United Arab Emirates, is spread across 30 square kilometres of land and has a 14-metre deep-water port and a seven-metre deep inner harbour. The zone is uniquely located at the intersection between three continents, is connected to 230 global cities by land, sea and air and allows investors to serve a growing market of 2 billion people. The Sohar Port South expansion will increase trade flows in Oman, allowing ships to directly call at the port, and welcome a greater variety of customers in the future. The added land area at the port will additionally support the creation of new and sustainable jobs in Sohar Free Zone. Sohar has established itself as a gateway to the booming markets of the Persian Gulf through excellent road systems, international airports and key rail links.

Investment retention

Following the post-election riots of 2017, Inhdelva Free Trade Zone in Honduras had to work strenuously to retain investors. In order to secure investment from a US-based sports apparel company, the zone offered a comprehensive support plan from the offset including access to 21 engineers, its best law firm and insurance companies, as well as establishing partnerships with electrical; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; and telecommunications companies. As a result, the company has already started its pre-construction process and is due to open at the end of 2020.

Maximising resources                                

The success of Free Zone Sabac in Serbia is a result of years of continuous efforts by the local authorities, from planning to land acquisition and infrastructure development. The zone is run by a management team of just four people, and over the years has been completely structured, implemented and financed by the city of Sabac. Free Zone Sabac is the result of a structured and organic growth based on understanding company needs.

Ones to watch                     

Launched in July 2018, Djibouti International Free Trade Zone has been highlighted as ‘one to watch.’ In less than a year, the zone has welcomed more than 50 companies from around the world, working in the logistics, manufacturing and energy sectors. According to a decree by the president of Uzbekistan on May 15, 2019, the procedure for selecting investment projects was simplified, meaning companies in the Navoi Free Economic Zone have additional customs privileges. Today, tenants of the zone are exempted from customs duties for imported equipment, raw materials and production components. Over the past year, the territory of the economic zone has been increased twice and the full Navoi region has been declared a free economic zone. Established in October 2018, Turkistan Special Economic Zone in Kazakhstan has already made major development strides, offering undisturbed access to the west Europe-west China transnational transport corridor, preferences and incentives, free land and governmental guarantees. Investors can also take advantage of the Eurasian Union and other Kazakh trading partnerships.

Overcoming adversity                                 

The Gomel region in Belarus suffered heavily due to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, with many people choosing to relocate and foreign investors apprehensive about lingering radiation. FEZ Gomel-Raton was established to overcome this stigma and bring jobs back to the area. In 2018, 48.1% of all investments made in the Gomel region were in the free economic zone and 43.8% of all goods exported from the region were made by its residents.

Site conversion                                           

Subic Bay Freeport Zone in the Philippines is recognised as one of the world's most successful military base conversions. Established in 1992 following the pullout of the US Navy from what was the biggest American military base outside of continental US, the zone was created to generate alternative employment to some 25,000 former base workers. With employment figures now running at 135,000, and cumulative investments at about $10bn, Subic has proven to be a forward-looking free zone grounded on a mission to bring about a sustainable local economy and promote inclusive growth among its stakeholders. Currently, Subic Bay Freeport continues this mission to include nearby communities in its development by serving as an anchor destination for investment and tourism, and by creating opportunities for employment.

Supporting surrounding area                     

Free Zone Pirot in Serbia has been credited for supporting its surrounding area. For the first time, 11 hectares of free zone territory is being extended to the underdeveloped and devastated neighbouring municipalities of Dimitrovgrad and Babušnica. The expansion will see the creation of 121 jobs. Eco Rubber will start production in Dimitrovgrad in 2019, investing €2.5m in a new plant recycling waste tyres.

Bespoke awards

Academic collaboration                                    

  • Panamá Pacífico has excellent partnerships with universities and institutions. Local companies and residents have access to the Aden and Incae postgraduate programmes as well as the Inadeh technical training courses. Five schools are located within the zone, including French High School, currently under expansion; Magen David; Knightsbridge School; Saint Mary’s College; and Howard Academy, which has a cultural collaboration agreement with a primary school in Dayu, China.
  • Tailor-made programmes have been created at the University of St Cyril & Methodius and the University of Bitola to develop potential employees for four organisations that have invested in Skopje in North Macedonia: Adient, Johnson Matthey, Kromberg & Schubert and Dräxlmaier. These programmes are predominantly focused on mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as computer science, and have resulted in many student scholarships and internships throughout the years.
  • In 2018, the first 100 specialists graduated from Alabuga Corporate University, the education project launched by Special Economic Zone Production and Industrial Type Alabuga in 2016 to help find the zone’s most ambitious executives. This year’s group was the fourth to graduate from the university, and since the first class, 70% of graduates have received employment offers. In April 2019, the Agency for Strategic Initiatives named Alabuga Corporate University among the top three HR development projects in Russia.

Cluster development                                  

  • Free Port of Ventspils is focused on developing its ICT cluster to support the development of ICT start-ups. The zone’s comprehensive ICT development strategy is supported by the Business Support Centre, Ventspils University College and the Digital Centre. The Free Port Authority recently started construction on a new science and innovation centre, which will encourage engineering and digital thinking among children, and facilities for ICT business offices and other support measures.
  • A pharmaceutical cluster was established in Special Economic Zone St Petersburg in 2013 following the implementation of a state programme to develop the pharmaceutical and medical industry in Russia. The cluster continues to grow, as shown by biotechnology company CJSC Biocad, the zone’s largest resident, which is due to open a new phase of its pharmaceutical complex in 2019. The zone also plans to open a new innovation centre by 2021 in order to attract more residents.


  • Djibouti’s multimodal infrastructure network includes the Doraleh Multipurpose Port, which has the fastest TEU rate in Africa, and the continent’s first transnational train line, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway. Over the coming months, the railway will also be connected to Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, creating an unprecedented link for companies in the zone to both global maritime trade routes as well as one of the most dynamic economies in the world.
  • Construction of the Pan-European Corridor X, which connects the city of Belgrade to Sofia and Istanbul, will bolster Free Zone Pirot’s strategic position in the Balkans. The interchange that connects the Corridor X highway and the zone is located 300 metres from the entrance to Free Zone Pirot. A logistics centre has also been constructed with two main infrastructural parts: a rail-road terminal plus 35 hectares of infrastructure land for warehouses, plants and other supportive facilities, which will enable haulers to shift transit goods from road to railway.
  • Łódź Special Economic Zone is the world’s first 5G economic zone. The zone implements 5G technology at investors’ headquarters and, through its S5 programme, educates enterprises on the potential of 5G and then supports developing applications for the 5G network that will accelerate their business.
  • Strategically located just minutes from ports, airports, continental highways and the Panama Canal, Panamá Pacifíco is ideally located to serve national and international markets. The zone boasts an airport within its limits in addition to the Hub of the Americas at Tocumen Airport, just 28 kilometres away. Moreover, two of the three largest ports in the Americas region are within a 10-kilometre radius of the zone as well as a railroad that carries cargo and passengers from the Pacific to the Atlantic and back again.

Crossborder collaboration

  • Latvia’s Free Port of Ventspils is proactively working on its signed co-operation agreement with Industrial Park Great Stone in Belarus, and is an active member of the Belt and Road International Transport Alliance, which aims to strengthen regional co-operation with countries in Asia.
  • As part of a working visit to the Special Economic Zone Production and Industrial Type Alabuga in Russia, the managing company of Kazakhstan’s Special Economic Zone Ontustik met with Alabuga’s representatives and with the Investment Development Agency of the Republic of Tatarstan.
  • Special Economic Zone Production and Industrial Type Alabuga is continuing to execute its joint partnership project with TEDA, one of the largest special economic zones in China. Negotiations first started in 2016, and in 2018 the joint project's business plan was presented to TEDA management during Tatarstan president Rustam Minnikhanov’s visit to China.
  • Panamá Pacífico has extensive programmes with PSA Port and Balboa Port (also in Panama) to expand commercial relations between them and companies in zone. PSA Port completed its second expansion phase in 2018 with a capacity of 2.5 million TEUs and several companies such as J Cain, BP Logistics, Alliance Transport Logistics, 3M, LAPP, KPMG, Arturo Araúz Customs Agency and TLA Group meet periodically to understand this new business synergy and exchange market updates.

CSR initiatives                                              

  • The corporate social responsibility programme in the Dominican Republic’s Corporación Zona Franca Santiago allows employees, their families and nearby residents to benefit from opportunities that support their well-being. The zone’s Cooperativa La Aurora initiative was launched to help provide a better quality of life for Zona Franca employees, with help for savings, loans and basic needs. Its breast cancer awareness campaign is held annually and has seen more than 4400 studies carried out.
  • Parque Central Zona Franca has implemented a number of corporate social responsibility initiatives in the fields of sport, education and community management activities, among others. 

Deployment of technology                        

  • In December 2018, Cayman Enterprise City launched an online community for its members with the aim of supporting innovation and providing engaging opportunities to collaborate. As a practical resource and attractive online platform, the website enhances the overall zone experience with features including community polls, competitions, event calendars, club pages, discounts and special offers.
  • DP World’s flagship Jebel Ali Port is on schedule to become the first in the world to install a new, intelligent high bay storage system called Boxbay that will be ready in time for the Dubai Expo 2020. The pilot project under way at Jebel Ali Terminal 4 is a fully automated stacking system for containers up to 11 storeys high, capable of delivering the capacity of a conventional terminal in one-third of the surface area.
  • La Lima Free Zone & Business Park in Costa Rica has implemented a QR code system for reporting anomalies at the park. If employees see that something is not working properly, they can scan the code to report it.
  • In 2018, Lipetsk Industrial Special Economic Zone launched a new digital platform enabling companies to apply for tenancy online.
  • Mahindra World City in Chennai, India, has developed an app for the city that offers information for companies and their employees such as cab bookings, handyman services, train and bus times, emergency contacts and ambulance support.
  • As part of its Free Trade Zones 4.0 movement, Zona Franca de Bogotá uses AI, automation and analytical projects to reach its maximum potential. Piciz, the free zone management software developed by ZFB, is the latest leading technology software in the Colombian market. There is a solid internationalisation plan, that will open doors to countries such as the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina and Peru.

Diversity initiatives                          

  • In 2018, Cayman Enterprise City was involved in the launch of Women Code Cayman. The initiative set out to support women in technology to become active contributors to the Cayman Islands' digital economy, to empower women who code to pursue creative technology-driven careers, and to nurture support networks that foster leadership and encourage professional growth in technology. Due to overwhelming interest in the free code education programme, the initiative was incorporated as non-profit and a curriculum was formalised. The zone continues to prioritise quality experiences, develop innovative opportunities, and deliver first-rate programming to ensure that Caymanians and residents of all backgrounds receive the right support and encouragement to develop into leaders and active contributors to the evolving global economy.
  • Zona Franca de Bogotá runs the Initiate ZFB Diversity and Inclusive programme that seeks employment inclusion with a difference. In total, 65 companies located in the zone were informed about the equal opportunity programme, 23 were trained and a job fair was held, which registered more than 2000 participants.

Economic impact                                         

  • On a domestic level, the pilot phase alone of Djibouti International Free Trade Zone has boosted Djibouti's GDP by 11%. With hopes to become the largest free-trade zone in Africa, the zone is set to generate more than 350,000 jobs in the next 10 years, most of which will be taken up by Djiboutians.
  • In an effort to encourage long-term sustainability, Gabon is seeking to diversify its economy away from being primarily oil dependent. Gabon Special Economic Zone is a catalyst in this journey, generating close to 5000 direct jobs and an equal number of indirect jobs. The zone has a 38% share in the total containers exported out of the country and has seen FDI flows of close to $1.7bn. 
  • Jebel Ali Free Zone contributes to almost one-quarter of Dubai’s GDP, generating $93bn-worth of trade and sustaining more than 135,000 jobs. According to a report from Boston Consulting Group, the economic activities of Jebel Ali Port and Jebel Ali Free Zone are also helping the the United Arab Emirates to reduce its economic dependence on the fossil fuel industry by contributing 14.9% to the UAE’s non-oil GDP in 2017. DP World’s Parks & Free Zones, comprising Jafza, the National Industries Park and Dubai Auto Zone, account for almost 24% of Dubai's FDI flows. 


  • Atlantic Free Zone, Morocco: Saint Gobain expanded its facility three times, to reach a total area of 92,905 square metres.
  • Balti, Moldova: Dräxlmaier has extended its presence in the zone by almost 4645 square metres since 2016, reaching a total 6700 employees by the end of 2018 and a turnover of more than €500,000.
  • Cayman Enterprise City, Cayman Islands: Maples Technology SEZC began with a team of three developers in 2012 and is now a team of 39. The company has recently taken on more space to enable it to reach 51 employees by the end of 2019 and 69 in just over 745 square metres of office space within the next two years. The zone is fitting out and furnishing Maples Technology’s serviced office expansion space on its behalf as well as upgrading its current space, which will include an investment from the zone of more than $400,000.
  • Coyol Free Zone, Costa Rica: In 2018, Medtronic began producing spinal orthopaedic products in a building spanning 2915 square metres. It is currently in the process of expanding, with a building of 6610 square metres.
  • DMCC, UAEAstrolabs, the only Google tech hub in the Middle East and north Africa region, expanded its office to add 670 square metres of co-working space. Astrolabs is now home to more than 160 start-ups and entrepreneurs.
  • Dubna Special Economic Zone, Russia: Anchor resident Promtech-Dubna JSC, a manufacturer of cables and harnesses, units and other components of electrical equipment and pipe systems for the aviation, space and defence industries, is building its seventh production facility in Dubna SEZ.
  • Free Port of Ventspils, Latvia: Immer Digital will build a second factory, covering 6000 square metres, doubling manufacturing power, increasing sales volume and almost tripling the number of employees.
  • Free Zone Pirot, Serbia: In the past few years Tigar Tires has invested €250m in production facilities, warehouses, offices, machinery and equipment. In 2019 it will invest an additional €49m in equipment for the production of radial automotive tyres and inner tubes.
  • FTZ 78, Tennessee, US: In April 2018, FTZ 78 invested in a $50,000 warehouse at its site 2 Decherd Plant, which added an additional 8000 square metres of activated area. In December of 2018, it expanded Stamping Bay 8 at its Site 1 Smyrna Plant, adding 4000 square metres of activated space. This has allowed tenant Nissan to work more effectively.
  • Hamriyah Free Zone Authority, UAE: SOEX invested $5.64m in a new plant on a 30,000-square-metre site. The company markets and recycles used textiles and plans to export 50% of its products to Africa and 25% each to the Middle East and eastern Europe.
  • Industrial Park Great Stone, Belarus: In 2017, IPG Photonics Corporation (US) acquired a land plot of 3.6 hectares for the construction of a laser equipment assembly plant. During the construction it was decided to expand the project and in 2018 an additional land plot of 6.9 hectares was purchased.
  • Industrial Special Economic Zone Togliatti, Russia: In June 2019, the zone approved a new resident, pharmaceutical production company Ozon Medica. This is Ozon Group’s third project in the zone and it is the largest non-automotive investor in SEZ Togliatti.
  • Inhdelva Free Trade Zone, Honduras: Grupo Logistico América is currently in the process of expanding its operations by 7200 square metres.
  • Katowice Special Economic Zone, Poland: Rockwell Automation will invest €26m in the construction of a new building to increase the production capacity of industrial automation elements.
  • Kizad, UAE: DHL started with 1395 square metres and within 10 months expanded to a 6040-square-metre facility.
  • Klaipeda Free Economic Zone, Lithuania: Albright International, an automotive electronic switches producer, has completed its 1800-square-metre plant extension, in addition to the existing 2200 square metres with an investment of €3m. This led to a production capacity increase of at least 30%.
  • La Lima Free Zone & Business Park, Costa Rica: Zollner, which makes printed circuit boards for the automotive industry and specifically for brands such as Tesla and BMW, plans to double its footprint in the zone. It currently occupies 4830 square metres.
  • Liepaja Special Economic Zone, Latvia: DG Terminals invested €2.6m to build new liquid cargo storage tanks. In doing so, the total liquid cargo storage capacity in the port of Liepaja has reached 75,000 cubic metres.
  • Lipetsk Industrial Special Economic Zone, Russia: Fondital plans to expand through building a new $22m casting facility.
  • Łódź Special Economic Zone, Poland: UMA Investments, a subsidiary of Kellogg, will invest about €75m to expand its operations in the zone and create 40 new jobs, bringing its total number of staff in the zone to about 500.
  • Panama Pacífico, Panama: FedEx is expanding its storage facility to include new pharmaceutical operations. In 2019, the company added new business lines and will also take on an additional 5600 square metres for a new client in the technological industry.
  • Panapark Free Zone, Panama: International Bottling Services, which already occupies one hectare in the zone, plans to expand by 9200 square metres. By early 2019, 4600 square metres had already been developed.
  • Parque Central Zona Franca, Colombia: In June 2017, O-tek moved its third pipeline of production to the zone. The expansion represented an investment of $15.3m and saw employee numbers increase from 60 to 160.
  • Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone, UAE: Nordic Energy FZC, an oil field equipment manufacturer, moved from a shared workstation facility to a land space of 10,000 square metres.
  • Rezekne Special Economic Zone, Latvia: Woodworking company Verems, the largest tenant in the zone, launched a new expansion project in 2018. The company plans to build a new 10,000-square-metre plywood facility and to increase plywood production from 46,000 cubic metres to 85,000 cubic metres by 2020, thus increasing plywood production volume by 85%. In total, it is planned that long-term investments will total up to €49.8m.
  • Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone, China: Glencore Co increased capital by $510m.
  • Skopje, North Macedonia: Kemet is expanding with a new R&D and global customer service centre that will employ 50 people and offer support in 20 languages.
  • Special Economic Zone Pavlodar, Kazakhstan: Giessenhaus, a manufacturer of alloyed aluminium, plans to implement three additional projects to produce aluminium profiles, refractory materials and hot dip galvanisation in 2019. The project represents a total investment of $65m and will potentially create 150 jobs.
  • Special Economic Zone St Petersburg, Russia: CJSC Biocad plans to open the second phase of its pharmaceutical complex for the development and production of biological substances and finished pharmaceuticals of biological nature. The total area of the new facilities will be about 30,860 square metres and represents an investment of Rbs3.72bn ($57m).
  • Wałbrzych Special Economic Zone Invest-Park, Poland: Daimler plans to open a plant producing batteries for electric vehicles in the zone, in addition to its existing investments.
  • Zona Franca del Pacífico, Colombia: In the first quarter of 2019, Furukawa decided to expand its operational area by 40% to meet demand in Latin America due to the zone’s strategic location and closeness to Buenaventura, the principal seaport of Colombia on the Pacific Ocean.
  • Zona Franca Tayrona, Colombia: Carport has expanded its enlistment centre to 1100 square metres.

Facilities upgrades                                      

  • In November 2018, Cayman Enterprise City officially broke ground on the first phase of a new 21.5-hectare mixed-use development. The 25-year, $500m development project will create about 92,905 square metres of world-class office space, residential areas, restaurants and amenities, which will create a variety of job opportunities for Caymanians and help to further diversify the Cayman economy. The new urban campus will provide a purpose-built hub for digital businesses across a variety of sectors including fintech, blockchain, biotech research, envirotech, media and digital marketing, among others.
  • In 2018, Russia’s Dubna Special Economic Zone started construction on two new innovative and technological centres, each composed of a production area and office and administrative premises. The resident companies plan to invest more than $11m into their projects and create almost 400 jobs.
  • Las Americas Free Zone in Dominican Republic has started construction on a new 50,000-square-metre business park. The zone will also invest about $4.3m in the construction of a new 4090-square-metre industrial warehouse and refurbishment of more than 13,005 square metres of existing warehouses.
  • In 2018, Lipetsk Industrial Special Economic Zone in Russia launched a specialised engineering centre designed for the automated management of remote facilities and technological processes. It provides 24/7 operational dispatch management of all engineering systems on site, including those of its resident manufacturers. It has significantly enhanced network reliability and reduced costs.
  • India’s Ramanujan IT City SEZ has established a new convention centre that can accommodate 1500 people for meetings and training programmes. Taj serviced apartments have also been established in the zone, which clients can book for a long or short stay.


  • Free Economic Zone Taraclia offers various incentives including exemption from income tax for three years when investing $1m in the fixed capital of the company and/or the development of the zone's infrastructure; exemption from income tax for  five years when investing $5m and 0% VAT for equipment, machinery, raw materials and goods.
  • Investors in Serbia’s Free Zone Pirot have access to general country-level incentives including low tax rates; no VAT and customs duty on imported raw materials; no customs duty on imported machinery and spare parts; and no customs duty and VAT on construction materials. Companies also benefit from incentives provided by the city of Pirot including no local taxes.
  • Rezekne Special Economic Zone in Latvia offers competitive operating costs, favourable tax incentives and other state aid measures that enhance return on investment. Companies can apply for an immovable property tax discount ranging from 80% up to 100%, as well as setting up free customs zones to ease logistics of services/products and customs procedures within the EU.
  • Oman’s Sohar Free Zone offers a corporate tax holiday of up to 25 years; 0% personal income tax; 100% foreign ownership; no sales restrictions to the Gulf Co-operation Council on payment of local duty; and no minimum capital requirements.

Industry 4.0 

  • Daegu Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone in South Korea has strategically developed projects and support for tenants adapting to Industry 4.0. Each district specialises in four major industries, namely IT convergence, advanced medical, advanced parts/materials and energy.
  • Innopolis SEZ in Russia is developing a new industrial park that aims to attract big manufacturing companies in IT-related industries such as robotics, microelectronics, additive technologies, prototyping and others.
  • Poland’s Katowice Special Economic Zone offers various engineering programmes in automation, robotics and innovations. In 2018, the zone launched the Silesian Competence Centre of Industry 4.0 in collaboration with the Silesian University of Technology. The centre guides investors through the digital transformation process; raising awareness about the benefits of digitalisation and helping investors establish more dynamic companies.
  • In September 2019, Łódź Special Economic Zone in central Poland launched the first and only Technical School of Automation & Robotics in Poland in collaboration with Ceramika Tubądzin, Delia Cosmetics and Miele Technika. Supported by the Ministry of National Education, the school will provide training for automation and robotics technicians. In 2019, the zone also launched the StartupSpark2.0 accelerator and scouts for start-ups with products/services within the Industry 4.0 sector (for example, AI, virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics, automation and cybersecurity). In its first round, 20 start-ups were matched to business partners.

Infrastructure upgrades 

  • Iran’s Arvand Free Zone has invested in various infrastructure projects in the past 12 months including the development of a new $1.47m industrial site, $1.76m improvement in electricity infrastructure and $434,000 in equipping schools and education centres in the region.
  • Free Port of Ventspils on Latvia’s western coast is investing in new rental production space. The zone will invest $12.9m in three new buildings spanning 11,000 square metres, generating an increase of 25% in the Free Port Authority’s supply of rental industrial real estate. It is currently in the process of renovating access roads to the port and industrial sites as part of a five-year project representing $23.3m as well as constructing three new parking lots, upgrading its general port infrastructure and constructing a new storage area.
  • Hamriyah Free Zone Authority in the Sharjah emirate of United Arab Emirates will carry out the third phase of its zone expansion, increasing the total area of the zone to about 30 square kilometres. Infrastructure improvements are also being carried out, including new custom-built warehouses, a new container terminal and container depot. Onsite labour accommodation capacity will also increase to more than 25,000 workers with the addition of a new Accommodation City facility.
  • Despite the challenging global trade outlook, DP World, the owner of Jebel Ali Free Zone in the United Arab Emirates, plans to invest up to $370m in 2019, as much as half of it going towards new equipment, warehousing, accommodation, land development and roads.
  • Las Americas Free Zone on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic is investing in the installation of a new two-way fibre optic link with GPON technology.
  • In addition to its port development plan and airport renovation, Liepaja Special Economic Zone in Latvia is planning to transform a former metallurgical plant into a business park with excellent infrastructure. The land area of 120 hectares together with the production facilities amounts to 85,000 square metres.
  • The Panamanian government is currently developing infrastructure that will make Panama Pacífico the best-connected area in the country. The expansion of the Pan-American Highway to eight lanes is already under construction as well as a fourth bridge over the Panama Canal, which will be ready in 2024. The zone has also just inaugurated the ‘Borinquen Highway,’ an exclusive cargo way that will save time and money for all logistics companies in the Pacific area.
  • Due to increased interest from foreign companies, Skopje in Macedonia has started construction on the new Skopje 3 zone, spanning 48 hectares. Skopje has also been working on developing the infrastructure at remaining zones across the country; an interconnect is currently being built in the Prilep Free Zone and an interchange in the Struga/Ohrid Free Zone.
  • In the final quarter of 2018, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority rolled out a massive infrastructure programme to rehabilitate existing facilities in the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority in the western Philippines, and developed new ones to boost its attractiveness. These included a 14.35m peso ($276,000) slope protection project and 9.3m peso El Kabayo road rehabilitation project.
  • Zona Franca Tamboril has started work on two major expansion projects. The first zone is in its second stage and involves investing in 37,160 square metres of rent space and about 1000 new jobs. The second initiative is a secondary free zone park located in the north-west part of the Dominican Republic near the port of Manzanillo, covering more than 929,030 square metres.

Marketing slogan                                        

  • DMCC, UAE: 'Made for trade'                                                                                           
  • Turkistan Special Economic Zone, Kazakhstan: 'Honouring the past, creating the future'

New investments                                        

  • Daegu Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone, South Korea: Samick THK plans to invest $15m in the zone. As the display market grows in China and South Korea, the demand for linear motion guide products has soared and the company is expected to establish a robotic cluster in Daegu.  
  • Dubna Special Economic Zone, Russia: PSK Pharma opened a facility for manufacturing products for the treatment of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases in January 2019. The project represents an investment of about $31m.
  • Industrial Special Economic Zone Togliatti, Russia: Gomma Line, a company specialising in the production of rubber and metal parts and tools, is the first Serbian investor in SEZ Togliatti. The company plans to produce car components in the zone and its key customer is Avtovaz-Renault-Nissan.
  • Katowice Special Economic Zone, Poland: SK Innovation is investing €335m in a new factory producing lithium-ion battery separators and ceramic coated separators used in electric cars. It is expected to create 300 jobs.
  • Lipetsk Industrial Special Economic Zone, Russia: Syngenta has invested more than $23m in a new facility for plant protection substances.
  • Sharjah Airport International Free Zone Authority, UAE: Rexton Technologies will open a Dh60m ($16.3m) light-emitting diode (LED) light manufacturing plant and laboratory at its headquarters in SAIF Zone. The firm, the manufacturing arm of Kingston Holdings, said the development will be the largest LED light factory in the Middle East and north Africa.
  • Skopje, North Macedonia: Gerresheimer is investing $30m in a new plant, the largest investment to date in the zone. The project will be developed in five phases, with 400 jobs created during the first phase. The company plans to hire highly skilled engineers, computer scientists and electrical engineers.  
  • Special Economic Zone Pavlodar, Kazakhstan: China Machinery Engineering Corporation, a construction and engineering company, is opening a new facility together with Ferro Mining HK CAG and the Metallurgical Corporation of China. The plant will produce titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, vanadium pentoxide and alloyed steels, and represents a total investment of $2.5bn.
  • Tanger Med Zones, Morocco: Hands Corporation is investing €400m in a new factory and creating 1000 direct jobs. It will be built on an area of 26 hectares.
  • Zona Franca de Bogotá, Colombia: Global Training Aviation is establishing its first training centre for the aeronautical sector in South America in the zone on an area of 1812 square metres.

 Red tape reduction                                     

  • Cayman Enterprise City has developed a comprehensive support programme, including a client experience team that helps new tenants and their employees settle into life in the Cayman Islands. A minimum capital investment is not required and permits, visas, trade certificates and turnkey office solutions are conveniently bundled into affordable serviced packages and delivered by the zone via a streamlined process, which removes bureaucratic red tape.
  • Launched in July 2018, The Port Community System is a paperless tool available to all companies in Djibouti International Free Trade Zone. It provides a 24/7 single point of entry for import and export information exchange, processing documentation online at any time for businesses requiring it and ensuring smooth coordination between air, sea, land and rail trade.
  • Kizad focuses on four key elements – speed, cost, scale and simplicity – to ensure that business can be conducted smoothly and reliably. Businesses can be set up within 24 hours with onsite paperwork processing for licensing, clearances, approvals and permits. Kizad ensures easy and convenient access to key markets in the Middle East through multimodal connectivity which includes immediate access to Khalifa Port with more than 1000 port-to-port connections, five international airports, uncongested highways and an upcoming railway network.
  • In 2018, Lipetsk Industrial Special Economic Zone launched a new digitalised procedure for companies applying for tenancy. The new format compresses application processing time to just one day. The zone has also developed voting software for its expert council members in collaboration with one of its tenants, Digital Tech.
  • The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority has implemented several in-house measures to speed up transactions for companies in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, including paperless transactions; increased frequency of bids and awards committee meetings; continuous training of personnel; and monitoring of compliance to ISO certifications.

Start-up support                                          

  • Free Port of Ventspils has launched the Business Support Centre, a newly created entity dedicated to servicing new start-ups. It will offer access to consultations, project managers, legal advice, accountant services and mentoring. The facility will feature co-working space and office premises and host networking events.
  • In 2019, Łódź Special Economic Zone launched StartupSpark2.0, an accelerator combining the potential of start-ups with the experience, resources and infrastructure of 11 corporations including Airbus, Procter & Gamble, Ericsson, PwC, Siemens and Bosch. Through the programme, the zone aims to accelerate more than 65 start-ups by 2021, offering €40,000 of financial support, technological and legal assistance and access to clients. The project is three times as big as had previously existed in terms of the amount of money granted for start-ups.
  • Tanger Med Zones provides small rental spaces dedicated specifically to start-up companies in its offshoring services zone. It also organises multiple workshops and fairs aimed at start-ups, to enhance their business network connections.

Skills development                                      

  • Cayman Enterprise City actively connects special economic zone companies with local talent through a number of initiatives: an online jobs portal; access to the zone’s marketing platform for recruitment services; code workshops and training sessions; school visits; science, technology, engineering and mathematics programming; an annual internship programme, and other activities that highlight the Cayman Islands' local workforce.
  • Łódź Special Economic Zone is the only zone in Poland distributing training vouchers through its Strefa RozwoYou training programme. These vouchers enable companies to receive up to 80% of financing for training, coaching and/or postgraduate studies for SME employees. More than 1000 companies have benefited from the subsidy, with 6000 employees taking part in 2623 development services. In 2018, the zone allocated funds worth almost €6m and the second edition, which started in July 2019, will distribute almost twice as much, at €10m. Beneficiaries were trained in a range of areas including team management, law, streamlining logistics and several vocational courses such as industrial pneumatics, construction and the operation of bearings and lean manufacturing.
  • Pánama Pacífico maintains strong partnerships with universities, institutions and recruitment firms, in order to provide a pipeline of talent to resident companies. There are several free courses and training programmes on offer. Technical training is provided in shared services, logistics and maritime sectors, among other areas. An alliance for intern recruitment for companies, Explorer Works, has been established.
  • The government in Skopje is willing to aid investors with their labour force requirements through customised vocational training programmes. Additionally, Germany-based Kostal, one of the zone’s resident companies and a supplier of technologically advanced electronic, electromechanical and mechatronic products, offers a recruitment programme for engineering positions by offering high school and college students internships, with the possibility of future employment.
  • In 2018, Russia’s Special Economic Zone Production and Industrial Type Alabuga launched a training project for manufacturing industry workers in Tatarstan. Research showed that the four most in-demand professions at local factories were mechatronics, automation of management systems, energetics and chemistry. The zone then decided to implement educational programmes for these professions at Yelabuga's engineering college. The team also launched the 100 Executives programme, as part of which SEZ experts visited 23 Russian universities and held intensive courses for soft skills and leadership skills enhancement. Participants with the highest results were offered internships in the zone.
  • Zona Franca Santander in Colombia provides a wide range of training courses with a focus on bilingualism in the English language; safety culture and protection of international trade; operational training; changes and opportunities in new free-trade zone regulations; and analysis and visualisation of data with a view to developing new business models in big data.


  • In the past year, Corporación Zona Franca Santiago has installed the Dominican Republic's largest rooftop photovoltaic power plant, generating two megawatts of clean energy for park users.
  • DLF Cybercity Chennai aims to be one of the greenest and safest workplaces in India. The zone is self-sustainable and has been awarded with an LEED platinum certification by the US Green Building Council.
  • DLF Cybercity Gurugram – Bldg 14 and 6 has received LEED platinum certification from the US Green Building Council as well as the 'Sword of Honour' from the British Safety Council in Occupational Health and Safety. The self-sustainable zone is supported by best-in-class infrastructure aimed at energy efficiency including a captive power station and solar power panels. 
  • Mahindra World City in Jaipur has introduced a public bicycle-sharing service. A fleet of 50 bicycles is now available at convenient docking stations for shared use by associates and visitors. An integrated app-based sharing system will also be rolled out at a later point. A highly efficient irrigation management system using 100% recycled water has been implemented to reduce water consumption and maximise coverage at minimal cost. Street lights will also be retrofitted with smart LED lights for more precise control of illumination management, to use less energy and reduce the zone’s carbon footprint.

Trade facilitation                                         

  • As part of a $250,000 improvement project, El Paso International Bridges recently augmented access from US Customs and Border Protection to better facilitate the traffic flow for cargo imports into the area on the US/Mexico border. A $96m project has been launched to improve access for commercial cargo traffic into and out of Mexico and the US, which will facilitate future expansion in City of El Paso FTZ 68. This project includes 16 new bridges, installing retaining walls, installing an intelligent transportation system, and erecting large overhead sign structures. This project will optimise the traffic connecting the Cordova Bridge to US Interstate 10 and US Highway 54, and alleviate the major congestion that affects the cargo and private transportation from this international port of entry.
  • In 2018, for the convenience of existing and potential investors, Industrial Park Great Stone opened a new customs clearance point, allowing all customs procedures to be done directly in the park.
  • Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone has established a trade supervision system to reduce red tape and paperwork for business registration and operation, as well as a regulatory system focused on transforming government functions, to provide a stable regulatory environment. In addition, its financial innovation system is aimed at capital account convertibility and opening up the financial services sector to attract foreign capital and help domestic companies to go global.

Workforce amenities                                  

  • DLF Cybercity Gurugram – Bldg 14 and 6 is working to provide a best-in-class workplace experience with a strategic location, plus future-ready infrastructure and transport systems, combined with bespoke leisure amenities. Competitive rates for day care help provide a work-life balance while safety and security measures have garnered ‘Sword of Honour’ recognition from the British Safety Council in Occupational Health and Safety.
  • In 2019, Katowice Special Economic Zone announced plans to open a new programme called ‘Employee+Apartment+’. The zone will invest €4.65m in 100 fully furnished apartments within two years.
  • Klaipeda Free Economic Zone has launched the FEZ Exchange, a series of seminars, events and workshops for members of the local community. The events cover topics such as production automation, marketing, HR, finance and industrial real estate. The zone’s current members and external speakers take part and the initiative seeks to foster knowledge and expertise sharing.

Special Economic Zone Pavlodar, Kazakhstan

Special Economic Zone Pavlodar has been acknowledged for its access to raw materials. The Pavlodar region has huge reserves of mineral resources, including 12.7 billion tonnes of coal, 3.5 million tonnes of copper, 150 tonnes of gold, 14,000 tonnes of cobalt, 251,000 tonnes of nickel, 70,000 tonnes of manganese, 700 million tonnes of refractory clay, 315 million tonnes of oil and 148 billion cubic metres of natural gas. The total value of balance reserves of solid minerals in the Pavlodar region is estimated at $460bn.

Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone, China

Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone has awarded for its efforts to improve transparency. The zone has been strengthening its efforts to open up and attract international investors by exploring institutional innovations in the fields of investment, trade, finance and regulation. An investment management system was built on pre-establishment national treatment and a negative list to improve openness and transparency. In addition, temporary adjustments have been made on both national and local levels to laws and regulations to provide legal guarantees for the zone.

Klaipeda Free Economic Zone, Lithuania

Klaipeda Free Economic Zone has been recognised for its flexible space initiatives. The zone will invest €4.5m to launch FlexStart 2, a larger successor to FlexStart, its universal rentable manufacturing space launched in 2017. FlexStart projects can be adapted to suit individual manufacturing, warehousing or retail clients in one to two months. Klaipeda Free Economic Zone has also won an award for local transport, after negotiating with CityBee, a car- and bicycle-sharing scheme provider, to make bicycles free to use for all employees in the zone. It has also successfully negotiated a new public transport route. From now on, two bus routes covering most of Klaipeda will connect the zone to the city, running from the early to late hours and in line with companies' most popular shifts.

Jebel Ali Free Zone, UAE

Jebel Ali Free Zone has been awarded for its international expansion capabilities. Over the past 18 months, owner DP World has expanded its global portfolio with acquisitions from India to Chile and the Caspian Sea to the Russian Arctic in multiple, yet related, businesses. Companies based in the zone will be able to plug into this expanding network of more than 150 operations such as marine and inland terminals, maritime services, logistics and ancillary services, supported by technology-driven trade solutions. Jebel Ali Free Zone’s smart strategies have also been recognised. The zone recently introduced a new system in collaboration with the Dubai Chamber that allows all free zone-based companies, from SMEs to large enterprises, to obtain a Dubai Chamber membership certificate. The integrated system is aimed at improving the ease of doing business in the city, and offers smart online services that add value to companies.

Leipaja Special Economic Zone, Latvia

Leipaja Special Economic Zone has been recognised for its port development activities. The zone is currently investing €25m in developing infrastructure including dredging the port waterway access canal and inner port to reach a depth of 14 metres for servicing Panamax-type vessels; constructing a new berth to service Panamax vessels; and implementing the breakwater repairs. New railway tracks will also be installed to increase rail carriage speed and reduce turnaround time in the port.

Gabon Special Economic Zone, Gabon

Gabon Special Economic Zone has received an award for its public-private partnerships (PPP), one of the few successful PPP policies in Africa. The zone started as a partnership between the government of Gabon and Singapore-based food and industrial raw materials company Olam International. The zone has since generated almost 5000 direct jobs, 5000 indirect jobs and close to $1.7bn in FDI.

Panapark Free Zone, Panama

Panapark Free Zone has been commended for its real estate flexibility. Its real estate offer is designed for all types and sizes of clients and their needs. Through the Build To Suit programme, the zone can construct buildings tailored to the needs its customers, ranging from 2500 square metre to one hectare for medium or large customers, and macro lots served from more than one hectare for large companies to multinationals. The zone also provides support through consultations and expert professional advice on topics such as obtaining a business licence, legal, tax, labour, logistics, customs, foreign trade and payroll management.

Coyol Free Zone, Costa Rica

Coyol Free Zone has been awarded for its recruitment assistance. In May 2019, Coyol Free Zone launched a recruitment data base with more than 39,000 potential candidates. Access is offered to its resident companies’ HR teams, to help them find potential candidates to fit their job requirements     

Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone, UK

Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone has been acknowledged for its relocation services. The Enterprise Zone Programme Board recently approved an additional two-year extension to the Relocation Services Project, extending it to March 31, 2020. The project was launched in 2015 to support Birmingham's inward investment proposition to provide both an incentive to relocate on enterprise zone sites and an aftercare service. The project continues to support businesses relocating in the area, such as PwC, which will be relocating and taking occupancy of all four floors of 1 Chamberlain Square on the Enterprise Zone Paradise site.                        

Balti, Moldova                     

Balti has been credited for its efforts to improve supplier development. It offers a programme that connects local SMEs with multinational companies’ supply chain in the automotive sector. The aim of the initiative is to provide support and assistance for local companies, to meet the quality and reliability required of multinationals and to help them to get in contact as suppliers.

Rezekne Special Economic Zone, Latvia

Rezekne Special Economic Zone offers investors access to a well-educated and highly skilled talent pool. The Rezekne Academy of Technologies, and vocational training institution the Rezekne Technical School, produce graduates in a diverse range of subjects including science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as economics. The local community is multilingual, with more than 85% of people speaking Russian, and about 70% up to the age of 40 having a good command of English.

Katowice Special Economic Zone, Poland

Katowice Special Economic Zone has been recognised for its tech transfer activities. The zone has extended the scope of its pre- and post-investment services and has been facing new challenges related to the passing of new regulations on the special economic zone. Katowice SEZ has been concentrating on FDI with a high engineering potential, the implementation of which will enable the transfer of technology. It has also actively helped the implementation of new automation processes and robotics at companies operating in the region. One example is Poland's first Innovation Lab by Omron, which provides robotised production objectives and support for specialists in robotics.                                                


DMCC has been recognised for its thought leadership. The zone launched the second edition of its thought leadership report, The Future of Trade, generating more than 20,000 downloads and placing Dubai in a strong position as a world authority on global trade as well as providing the market with a view of how trade will unfold over the next 10 years. The zone organises a series of international events annually, as well as hosting the Knowledge Series, a regular programme of lectures, workshops and seminars exclusively for DMCC members. These events help to educate professionals working across the free zone about the most pressing current issues in business and society. Through its international engagement strategy, DMCC promotes not only itself but also free zones as an economic concept, with the ultimate goal of driving trade through Dubai.

Łódź Special Economic Development Zone, Poland

In recognition of its status as the first 5G economic zone worldwide, Łódź Special Economic Zone has been recognised for its 5G readiness. The zone runs the S5 accelerator programme, together with industry, start-ups, administration and academia, to develop the first industrial use cases of 5G technology. Łódź Special Economic Development Zone received more than €3m in EU funding to reach out to start-ups and SMEs in order to create and commercialise 5G solutions.