I spent two days last week at a workshop on special economic zones in Southeast Asia for the United Nations (UNCTAD), in conjunction with ASEAN and support from a number of other partners. I was invited to speak on the topic of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in CLMTV (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam): Significance, Impact and Linkages. The audience consisted of representatives of eight Southeast Asian nations, academics and private sector representatives and we met at the Amari Watergate Hotel here in sunny Bangkok.
The issues involved are complex and opinions diverse: in India, for example, SEZs are seen as a means of land-grabbing and reviled by most people while in China they are revered as part of the means of enabling hundreds of millions of people to lift themselves from poverty while retaining monolithic political control. Here in the Mekong region, they are part of the Factory Asia paradigm of import-substituting, export-oriented intensive manufacturing based (at least initially) on low labour cost competitiveness. One question is how to involve local companies and individuals as part of the global value chains being created by firms through forward and backward linkages. The provision of infrastructure and connectivity is necessary but not sufficient in achieving this.
Attending the workshop is part of my consultancy with the UN, which now requires me to complete various reports and I will be busy with that over the next couple of weeks.