Latin America’s 795 free trade zones (FTZs) generated a total of 961,182 direct jobs across the region in 2018, according to rare statistical evidence on their activity produced by the Free Trade Zones Association of the Americas (Azfa). 

The Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica accounted for as much as 59% of the total jobs generated by FTZs in Latin America, Azfa’s figures show. 


FTZs have become a major engine of employment and growth for Latin American countries over the years. Costa Rica’s 41 FTZs made up 7.9 per cent of the national GDP in 2018, 4.8 per cent Uruguay’s and 3.3 per cent of the Dominican Republic’s, according to Azfa’s figures. 

They have provided a soft landing in often challenging jurisdictions for domestic and international companies willing to chase foreign trade opportunities from Latin America. Azfa estimates some 13,438 companies were active across the region’s FTZs in 2018, generating exports for $38.8bn and imports for $40bn. 

With 75 export-processing zones and 36 permanent FTZs, Colombia’s FTZ programme has led the region in investment generation capacity. The country’s FTZs accumulated investment for $12.2bn between 2009 and 2018, Azfa’s figures show. Uruguay’s 10 FTZs have generated $7.2bn in investment, while the Dominican Republic, with its 151 export-processing zones and 74 permanent FTZs, accumulated investment for $5bn between 1999 and 2008. 

In Brazil, the Manaus FTZ alone accumulated investment for $8.9bn between 2014 and 2018, Azfa figures show.