Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are demarcated geographic areas contained within a country’s national boundary where the rules of business are different from those that prevail in the national territory. They aim to attract investors by offering favourable customs and tax regimes, a competent and competitive labour pool, and settlement conditions that are supposed to offer legally secure, conflict-free access to land. A wide range of actors (from China to the World Bank) support this model of economic development, which has been adopted in about 100 countries.
Many studies on SEZs focus on their economic performance. Less attention has been paid to how their creation and operation affect land rights, or the broader questions they raise about territorial governance, legislation and economic development models.
This study investigates how the establishment, development and expansion of SEZs impact on land tenure. It explores different national legislations and experiences through a global review of SEZs and case studies from Madagascar and Senegal, identifying the land issues associated with SEZs and stakeholder responses to them. The analyses in this report draw on the work of the “Land Tenure and Development” Technical Committee, providing new insights into SEZs that can inform recommendations for their future deployment and broader support for rural development.