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From Site Selection magazine, November 2019



It’s difficult, bordering on impossible, to compare free trade zones (FTZs) and special economic zones (SEZs) across the world because their definitions vary so wildly from country to country.

We’re going to do it anyway.

Site Selection isn’t going about this heady task alone. We again surveyed our network, the global corporate investors and site consultants responsible for selecting where to invest and expand, and asked them to tell us which ones are doing it best, arranged by region, recognizing the top two in each area. Supported by data generated by Conway Analytics and our in-house research team, those selections populate the pages that follow.

Top 20

We also worked with valuable data from our friends at Investment Consulting Associates, recently acquired by Site Selection parent company Conway, Inc., who from December 2010 through January 2018 tracked 2,722 investment projects in nearly 300 non-U.S. free zones. From this we created two indices: one that ranks the top 20 zones by straight tallies of projects and their related capital investment and job creation numbers; and a second that ranks the top 20 on a per-capita basis using country-level population figures.

Finally, we evaluated U.S. Foreign-Trade Zones based on the most recent annual figures from the U.S. FTZ Board listing numbers of resident production and warehouse operations in each of the zones. We tallied those numbers in five different indices, then cross-indexed to come up with our 2019 winners.

Unsurprisingly most of the top zones in the world have a port or airport close at hand, and an expert team dedicated to trade and economic development. In a time where global trade is seemingly under endless assault, we applaud the tireless work these professionals do to buoy the economies of the regions they serve.

Site Selection's Top Free Trade Zone Winners

Methodology: Survey of global corporate investors and site consultants


Tanger Med Zones

Tanger Med Zones, Morocco

Tanger Free Zone, lunched in 1999 and based in Morocco has created 60,000 plus jobs, generated 7 billion in investments, with a total of 500 plus companies established within the zone from 35 plus nationalities. Tanger Free Zone is ranked as the 6th free zone on a global scale, consisting of industries pertaining to automotive, aerospace, electronics and textile. The zone is only 14 kilometers from Europe.  


Lekki Free Zone, Nigeria

The Lekki Free Zone established in 2006 and based in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and seventh most populous country in the world. Key sectors within the economy include petroleum, agriculture, telecommunications, manufacturing and movies. The Lekki Free Zone is also the country’s first industrial and commercial hub to run on 24-hour uninterrupted power supply.



Incheon Free Economic Zone, South Korea

The Incheon Free Economic Zone, located between China, the world’s second largest economy, and Japan, the third largest, can be reached in three hours by air from 147 cities with a population of over 1 million. The Korean government, Incheon city and Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority provide incentives that include tax benefits, land supply and intellectual property protection. 


Daegu–Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone, South Korea

The Daegu–Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone is considered the gateway to Northeast Asia adjacent to China, Japan and Russia. The zone is located in Daegu Metropolitan city with a population of 2.5 million, just two hours away from major cites such as Seoul. The Daegu–Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone is home to several notable companies such as Samsung, LG and General Motors, with industries consisting of mobile devices, energy, automotive and textiles. 



Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), 
United Arab Emirates

A total of 1,868 new companies joined DMCC in 2018, a 12% growth year-on-year increase. DMCC is home to over 15,000 member companies and registers an average of seven new companies a day. Collectively, the economic impact of DMCC member companies contributes over 10% to Dubai’s GDP. 


Dubai Airport Free Zone, United Arab Emirates

DAFZA’s contribution to Dubai’s foreign trade reached 12% in the first half of the year, with 35% growth in its trade surplus, and growth of 8% in the total value of foreign trade, which exceeded AED 78 billion (US$21.2 billion). Major service center and regional HQ projects have recently come from Airbus, TNA and Michelin. The $871 million Dubai CommerCity is the first e-commerce free zone dedicated to the growing MENA market.



Klaipeda Free Economic Zone, Lithuania

At the Klaipeda FEZ you can set up your business for less and receive incentives that will help your business grow. Flex Start 02 is set for completion in 2020 and will be a manufacturing facility that will allow a tenant to take space in less than two months.


Shannon Free Zone, Ireland

The first free zone in the world celebrated its 60th anniversary in May. Today over 170 companies are located in the Zone, employing over 8,000 people. Recent investments have come from Aerospace Asset Trading and STS Component Solutions.


Georgia FTZ

U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone No. 26, Atlanta, Georgia

GFTZ is dedicated to economic growth in Georgia and the U.S. through the U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone program. More than two dozen companies — Southwire being the latest — employing more than 10,000 Georgians are presently working with GFTZ to access the benefits of the FTZ program.


U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone No. 122, Corpus Christi, Texas 

The Port of Corpus Christi is the third largest port in the United States in total revenue tonnage. The Port recently set three new tonnage records: highest volume in a single month; the highest quarter ever at 32.1 million tons; and tonnage for the first nine months of this year. Among its biggest recent deals: a 50-year lease to Lone Star Ports for a new petroleum export terminal.



Coyol Free Zone and Business Park, Costa Rica

Zone leaders announced in June that companies established in CFZ would generate 1,500 new jobs by the end of the year. The “Intégrate a Coyol” program, which prepares potential job candidates from nearby communities, has graduated 1,600 students. In 2018 Costa Rica exported more than $3.2 billion in medical devices, of which more than $1.9 billion (63%) came from CFZ.

Panama Pacifico

Panama Pacifico Special Economic Zone, Panama

 Panama Pacífico’s 1,400 hectares (567 acres) include nearly half the former military base devoted to preserved land, and the 800 hectares (324 acres) for logistics, office, retail and residential development. The zone is one major reason Panama in 2017 was a top performer in Latin America in financial services exports, valued at more than $1.2 billion.

Adam Jones-Kelley
President of Conway, Inc.

Adam Jones-Kelley

Adam Jones-Kelley serves as President of Conway and Publisher of Site Selection magazine, having been with the company for nearly 20 years. Adam is a featured speaker at events around the world and a regular contributor to Conway's various publications.


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