“Special Secure Economic Zones” The role of African SEZs in accelerating co-development with Europe

For the past fifteen years, the dynamic of SEZs in Africa has been clearly underway. 

The weakness of infrastructure in Africa, the insecurity of goods and people and the insufficiency of services for businesses explain the success of the solution offered by SSEZs, which consists in ensuring the externalities required by industrial development in delimited territories. UNCTAD estimates that in 2019 there were 237 SEZs in Africa, either operational or under construction. For the year 2021, AEZO (Africa Economic Zones Organization), partner of this report, gives the figure of 203 existing and 73 planned SEZs. 

The report recalls the context of the growth of these zones (which came first in the form of free export zones) in emerging countries. Since the 1980s, most of these countries have adopted more open trade policies, opting for interdependence over economic independence. Building on the success of the SEZs created in China in the early 1980s, Shenzen in particular, China has given its notoriety to the new model of these zones, the Special Economic Zones, which are vast territories benefiting from quality infrastructure, from a particular tax and / or customs regime, and sometimes from regimes derogating from the laws on access to land or employment. The report also recalls the importance of SEZs for attracting FDI. The term “SEZ” has thus become a brand, an ambition in the eyes of African Heads of State. A case in point is Egypt’s desire to build the Suez Canal Economic Zone based on SEZs, which is to become one of the seven largest zones in the world by 2035. 

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