Special Economic Zones and Infrastructure: Intensifying Uneven Development across the Mekong Region

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This is the third abstract for the panel on Uneven Development to be held at the 3rd ICIRD in November.

Special economic zones (SEZs) have been significant and successful in promoting rapid development across the Mekong Region. Low labour cost competitiveness in numerous factories with production mostly aimed at exporting has transformed the economy of Thailand, is transforming the economies of Vietnam and Yunnan Province of China, and is set to transform the economies of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Linkages between SEZs involve infrastructure in both its hard (transportation and utilities) and sort (managerial practices and development policies) aspects. Building and developing infrastructure to link SEZs, therefore, has a direct and positive impact on the economic development of a country and so it has become a priority for government agencies and for international funding agencies such as the Asian Development Bank, which is leading the creation of the Asian Highway Network. However, although SEZs can in theory be located anywhere within a country and thereby assist with regional development in the more deprived areas of the Mekong Region, they have very often been located near large urban areas or in border areas where advantage can be taken of cross-border complementarities, access to markets and hard infrastructure. This tends to reinforce the uneven development of the region, in which relatively well-developed urban areas benefit from existing and future economic growth while remote and rural areas are often left untouched. People can abridge this difference by migrating from the countryside to the SEZ site and many thousands have done so, with significant impacts on the households and communities involved. This paper takes a case study approach to SEZs across the region and examines the ways in which they contribute to uneven development and the impacts this has for community and household relations. Implications are drawn from this analysis for social and economic policy.

Keywords: Asian Highway Network, infrastructure, Mekong Region, special economic zones

John Walsh, Assistant Professor, School of Management, Shinawatra University

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One thought on “Special Economic Zones and Infrastructure: Intensifying Uneven Development across the Mekong Region

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