Dubai is to be the headquarters of the World Free Zones Organisation (WFZO), a new multinational body that will oversee some of the fastest growing economic regions of the world.
The organisation was declared open yesterday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at a ceremony in the emirate. It represents global recognition for the role Dubai has played in developing free zones as engines of economic growth.
The WFZO was registered and established last year in Geneva, Switzerland, where many multinational organisations are based, as an international, independent and not-for-profit organisation. Its permanent headquarters will be in Dubai, initially sited at the Dubai Airport Free Zone and chaired by Mohammed Al Zarooni, who is also the chairman of Dafza and the Dubai Silicon Oasis free zone.
“The WFZO will promote a spirit of collaboration, dialogue and guidance,” Mr Al Zarooni said. “It will provide help to nations that can benefit from the free zone model, whose economies require foreign direct investment to build strong, robust and diverse economies.”
The new body will be run by a 14-member board, representing executives from free zones from the US, Europe, China, India and the rest of the world. A management committee under the chief executive, Samir Hamrouni, an adviser to Mr Al Zarooni, will report to the board.
Mr Al Zarooni said that all countries that are members of the United Nations would be eligible for consideration for membership of the WFZO, but that the organisation reserved the right to restrict membership.
“The guiding principle is that members abide by ethical norms of business with no unlawful forms of business. Security will be one of the main functions of WFZO,” he added. Free zones are already governed to some degree by World Trade Organisation rules.
There are about 3,500 free zones around the world, Mr Al Zarooni said, including special economic and development zones. Most offer businesses incentives in the form of low or no-tax and ownership benefits to locate their operations there.
Since the mid-1980s Dubai has pioneered the development of free zones. Mr Al Zarooni estimated that about 25 per cent of the emirate’s GDP arose in free zones, which also accounted for about 75 per cent of exports, and employed around 225,000 employees in an estimated 19,000 companies.
There will be three categories of membership of the WFZO – full members with voting rights; associate members with no vote, mainly comprising companies within free zones; and observers, such as United Nations agencies and other multinational bodies.
“WFZO will further enhance the development of free zones in other parts of the world,” Mr Al Zarooni said. “With its headquarters here, Dubai and the UAE are positioning themselves as major players in the world economy in the run-up to Expo 2020.”
He added that Dubai was a “living example of successful free zones. We have 22 of them”.
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