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A special economic zone (SEZ) is an area in which business and trade laws are different from the rest of the country. SEZs are located within a country's national borders, and their aims include: increased trade balance, increased investment, job creation and effective administration. To encourage businesses to set up in the zone, financial policies are introduced. These policies typically regard investing, taxation, trading, quotas, customs and labour regulations. Additionally, companies may be offered tax holidays, where upon establishing in a zone they are granted a period of lower taxation.
The creation of special economic zones by the host .country may be motivated by the desire to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).   The benefits a company gains by being in a special economic zone may mean that it can produce and trade goods at a lower price, aimed at being globally competitive.   In some countries the zones have been criticized for being little more than labor camps, with workers denied fundamental labor rights.  
The definition of a SEZ is determined individually by each country. According to the World Bank in 2008, the modern day special economic zone typically includes a "geographically limited area, usually physically secured (fenced-in); single management/administration; eligibility for benefits based upon physical location within the zone; separate customs area (duty-free benefits) and streamlined procedures." 
Modern SEZs appeared from the late 1950s in industrial countries. The first was in Shannon Airport in Clare, Ireland.  From the 1970s onward, zones providing labour-intensive manufacturing have been established, starting in Latin America and East Asia. The first in China following the opening of China in 1979 by Deng Xiaoping was the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, which encouraged foreign investment and simultaneously accelerated industrialization in this region. These zones attracted investment from multinational corporations. 
A recent trend has been for African countries to set up SEZs in partnership with China. 
- Free-trade zones (FTZ)
- Export processing zones (EPZ)
- Free zones/ Free economic zones (FZ/ FEZ)
- Industrial parks/ industrial estates (IE)
- Free ports
- Bonded logistics parks (BLP)
- Urban enterprise zones
The World Bank created the following table to clarify distinctions between types of special economic zones:
|Type ||Objective||Size||Typical Location||Typical Activities||Markets|
|FTZ||Support trade||<50 hectares||Port of entry||Entrepôts and trade related||Domestic, re-export|
|EPZ (traditional)||Export manufacturing||<100 hectares||None||Manufacturing, processing||Mostly export|
|EPZ (single Unit/free enterprise)||Export manufacturing||No minimum||Countrywide||Manufacturing, processing||Mostly export|
|EPZ (hybrid)||Export manufacturing||<100 hectares||None||Manufacturing, processing||Export, domestic|
|Free port/SEZ||Integrated development||>1000 hectares||None||Multi-use||Internal, domestic, export|
|Urban enterprise zone||Urban revitalization||<50 hectares||Urban/rural||Multi-use||Domestic|
SEZs were introduced to India in 2000, following the already successful SEZ model used in China. Prior to their introduction, India relied on export processing zones (EPZs) which failed to make an impact on foreign investors. By 2005, all EPZs had been converted to SEZs. As of 2017, there are 221 SEZs in operation, with a further 194 approved for 2018. For developers to establish an SEZ in India, applications can be made to the Indian Board of Approval. Companies, partner firms and individuals may also apply by completing Form-A which is available on the Department of Commerce's website. There are four types of SEZs in India, which are categorised according to size: Multi-sector (1,000+ hectares); Sector-specific (100+ hectares); Free Trade & Warehousing Zone (FTWZ) (40+ hectares); and Tech, handicraft, non-conventional energy, gems & jewellery (10+ hectares). 
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- Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority BEPZA
- South Kazakhstan "Ontustyk" special economic zone
- Indian Special Economic Zones
- Export Processing Zones Authority Pakistan
- PEZA Philippines website
- [ permanent dead link] India Special Economic zones map
- Open Joint Stock Company "Special Economic Zones" (Russia)
- U.S.S.R. Special Economic Zones
- India: Citizens group demand moratorium on SEZs OneWorld South Asia