The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious effort to deepen regional cooperation and improve connectivity on a trans-continental scale. While the scope of the initiative is still taking shape, the BRI consists primarily of the Silk Road Economic Belt, linking China to Central and South Asia and onwards to Europe, and the New Maritime Silk Road, linking China to the nations of South East Asia, the Gulf Countries, North Africa, and on to Europe. Six other economic corridors have been identified to link other countries to the Belt and the Road.
In the late 1950s, a group of businessmen and politicians on the outskirts of a small town in western Ireland realized their local airport was in jeopardy of losing its international flights. Knowing how important transit passengers and the airlines were to their economy, a proposal for a special industrial area near the airport was submitted and approved, marking the inception of the world’s first modern free trade zone in Shannon, Ireland. Today, the concept has gone global with an estimated 4,300 various types of zones worldwide.
All across the world, we have seen countries exploring and seizing the potential of these industrial zones—often also called industrial parks or special economic zones. In East Asia, you can point to the experiences of China, Singapore, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and Vietnam. In Central America, we have those of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Honduras. In the Middle East and North Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan have also created zones. In Sub-Sahara Africa, Mauritius first set up an export processing zone all the way back in the 1970s, and today, countries across the region continue to experiment with modern industrial zone regimes.
The concept of the industrial zone is gaining more acceptance globally. The appeal lies in these zones’ ability to catalyze economic development and structural transformation.