Free zones’ contribution to development goes beyond trade and investment flows, providing, for example knowledge transfer and innovation, skills and capacity building, and the introduction of new, sustainable standards and regulations. Put another way, free zones have the potential to add not only to the economic growth of a country, but also to its prosperity.

Prosperity goes beyond mere economic growth, and ensures the inclusive, sustainable development of a society by addressing the needs and expectations of all its key stakeholders. Economic policy should be designed to be inclusive and offer welfare benefits and opportunities for higher income and wellbeing to all members of that society.


Focus for conference

With a view to promoting such equal and shared prosperity, the World Free Zone Organization (World FZO) will focus on three specific themes during its fourth Annual International Conference and Exhibition in Dubai on April 30 and May 1, 2018. These are:

  • Measurement: Identifying and developing key indicators and statistical tools to measure the impact of free zones on inclusive and sustainable development by establishing a ‘prosperity curve’.
  • Acceleration: Empowering free zones by designing tools and policies that will support inclusive growth.
  • Connection: Establishing links between free zones to unlock the potential for co-operation and synergies between them. This will also provide a platform for dialogue and an exchange of best practices, as well as creating better and stronger links between free zones.

These themes are aligned with the World FZO’s original mandate to bring together free zones from around the world to build a comprehensive knowledge database; to provide a platform to learn, share and grow; and to offer advice to improve the management and administration of free zones.

The World FZO is a not-for-profit entity operating as a peak body for free zones, free zone associations and partners/stakeholders around the world. It aims to transform the way free zones are understood and the manner in which they interact with the broader economy.

Supporting free zones

Established and registered in Geneva, Switzerland, and launched and headquartered in Dubai, the World FZO is a truly international entity that is open to individuals and organisations from all UN member countries.

Its key objectives are: to highlight the positive impact that free zones can have on a host country and to expand the knowledge base on free zones for economic development officials, industry professionals, economists and trade negotiators; and to bring together an ecosystem of free-zone partners from around the world and help them contribute to building a new global trade order.

One of the most important goals for the World FZO is to create a platform for the sharing of knowledge and experience. There are lessons to be learnt from the experiences of free zones around the world, and without a unifying peak global body, each individual country will continue to find its own way – some will succeed, others may not. Ultimately the role of free zones is to ensure economic sustainability for the host country, both in the present and for future generations, and we believe that an international body such as the World FZO can be a great enabler of this success.

The World FZO provides a number of dedicated services to its members and partners. These have been designed to support members and partners in achieving their strategic objectives, enhancing operational performance, creating networking and business opportunities, as well as bringing new insights and learning through international best practice.

Programme for prosperity

In May 2016, the World FZO launched an ambitious initiative called the Free Zone of the Future Programme (FZF Programme) – a Global Initiative for Local Prosperity. It seeks to empower free zones and assist them to build and contribute to a sustainable and prosperous future, one that supports the growth of local economies and communities while simultaneously benefiting from the global market dynamics.

This programme would help free zones grow their business, be better aligned to best practices and improve their operational efficiency. Through the FZF Programme, we aim to bring together an ecosystem of free-zone partners from around the world and help them to contribute to building sustainable prosperity. While the number of free zones and their share of GDP have continued to increase over the past two decades, they still face distinct challenges relating to capacity building, process and performance innovation, knowledge sharing and sustainability.

The World FZO recognises that the creation of a programme that seeks to collectively address future challenges and enable learning through knowledge sharing is at the heart of sustainability and success for free zones moving forward.

The programme has four key objectives:

1) To provide thought leadership and enable learning through knowledge sharing.

2) To enable informed decision making through benchmarking, measurable data collection and analysis.

3) To promote innovation and sustainability through incubation and support services.

4) To provide tools and resources to help with adherence to local and global policies, laws and regulations.

The programme aims to prepare free zones through capability building, leading to a sustainable and prosperous future. It will consolidate all the support services related to the growth and development of free zones, and transform these into a useful global development framework for policymakers, thought leaders, investors, financiers and partners.

Three pillars

Consisting of three main pillars of excellence and nine components, the FZF Programme equips members with tools and resources through these components to achieve their long-term goals.

The three main pillars are: best in class, including components of knowledge-based, certified and tech-ready zones; innovation and entrepreneurship, including components of entrepreneurial, SME developer and innovative zones; and sustainability, including components of environmentally friendly, 'good place to work' and socially responsible zones.

This programme will enable free zones to improve their overall operational and trade efficiency and so better contribute to the prosperity of the countries in which they are located. They will expand their knowledge base, improve communications with other stakeholders and gain the ability to improve compliance with local and international laws and rules governing trade in goods and services.

By pooling knowledge, sharing best practices (as well as next practices) and expanding their networking potential, all free zones stand a greater chance of success in their operations. The FZF Programme is designed to be the platform for such exchanges to flourish, and eventually enable free zones to become more effective catalysts for local prosperity in all countries.

Dr Samir Hamrouni is CEO and Dr Mohan Guruswamy is chief knowledge officer at the World Free Zone Organization.