How Special are Special Economic Zones: Evidence from South Asia

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This study applies quasi-experimental designs to assess how successful the special economic zones (SEZs) have been in offering a better investment climate than what is available to firms outside of them in three South Asian countries: India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The World Bank Enterprise Surveys’ data for 2013–2014 on 68 investment climate factors for all the three countries have been organized into 50 onsite and offsite investment climate variables for the assessment. The study is the first to provide causal evidence based on the matching and weighting methods. The key argument is that what sets SEZs apart from other economic zones is their ability to overcome growth impeding institutions. The results however show that the SEZs could not be insulated from the wider institutional contexts in which they are embedded. There are gaps between promises and implementation on the one hand and perceived and actual improvement on the other. The paper has important implications for policy makers who seem to be in a rush to set up SEZs as a development panacea.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe World Economy
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 11 January 2023.


  • Special economic zones
  • Export processing zones
  • Investment climate
  • South Asia
  • Enterprise survey

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