Driving economic transformation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) environment
in partnership with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ)
Session Type
Session Themes
Special Economic Zones
Room number
WIF Virtual Platform, room 2
Contact Email
20 October 2021
12:00 - 13:30 Europe/Zurich

Official Launch of “Handbook on Special Economic Zones in Africa: Towards Economic Diversification across the Continent”

Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been widely used for decades, however there is relatively little systematic research on their performance or social, economic and environmental impact, especially in the context of Africa. The UNCTAD World Investment Report 2019 presented a comprehensive analysis on the number and types of SEZs. However, large gaps remain concerning data on their design and the benefits that they accrue to the host economy. Similarly, although the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is set to impact SEZs on the continent significantly, there is a lack of research and policy guidance on how zones can adjust to the new regulatory environment. In this context, UNCTAD with the support of GIZ, has developed a handbook for SEZs on the continent. Handbook on Special Economic Zones in Africa: Towards Economic Diversification across the Continent, in addition to providing best practices and policy recommendations across a wide array of topics relevant to SEZs, also features case studies from a number of different zones within and outside of Africa. In addition to the dissemination of the findings of the handbook, UNCTAD and GIZ are also arranging a series of technical cooperation workshops in different parts of Africa. The handbook and the related technical cooperation have a particularly strong emphasis on helping SEZs adjust to the new trade and investment environment in Africa, after the full implementation of the AfCFTA.

This session aims at discussing the aforementioned issues covered by the handbook with a wide range of stakeholders, including high-level representatives from African member States, SEZ managers, SEZ associations, United Nation bodies and specialized agencies. It will provide a timely opportunity for a high-level exchange on the development of SEZs on the continent, with a focus on the opportunities and challenges in the context of the implementation of the AfCFTA.

Issues to be addressed

  • How have zones in the continent fared so far, and what are the current main challenges that impede their performance and contribution to sustainable development?
  • In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, what are the challenges faced by SEZ stakeholders, the main actions undertaken to face the crisis and the key lessons learnt? What role can SEZs play to ensure a sustainable recovery post-COVID-19?
  • How will the AfCFTA agreement impact SEZs? What are the main opportunities and concerns with regards to the implementation of the agreement?
  • In light of the expected changes in international trade and investment patterns, what will be the strategic focus of SEZs in Africa in the years to come?
  • What can be the key guidelines for policy makers in the design and implementation of SEZ development programmes, or programmes aimed at improving existing SEZs?


Chair of the Management Board, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit
Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining, African Union Commission
Senior Minister and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Deputy Minister Designate for Trade & Industry, Ghana
Consultant, and Former Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Promotion, Mali
Princesa de Asturias Chair and a Professor of Economic Geography, London School of Economics
Secretary General, Africa Economic Zones Organization
Managing Director, Ladol Free Zone
CEO, Economic Development Board of Mauritius
CEO, Atlantis Special Economic Zone


Broadcaster, Journalist and Award-winning Author, BBC