WEPZA is the creation of the tireless efforts of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization ("UNIDO") throughout the 1970s to help developing countries enhance export production through export processing zones ("EPZs"). Based on the success of forerunner EPZs like the Shannon Free Zone in Ireland, and Masan in South Korea, UNIDO concluded that EPZs could simultaneously serve as pilots for initiating trade-liberalization reforms nation-wide and as mechanisms for diversifying and increasing exports. It therefore engaged numerous experts from successful EPZ projects and began offering technical assistance to countries considering EPZ projects.
By 1974, representatives of UNIDO formed a working group to consider the creation of a more formal association of EPZ experts. Through this association, UNIDO could devise international standards for EPZs and offer consultation on feasibility studies, site development, operation, and other aspects of EPZ development. Finally, on February 4, 1978, representatives of UNIDO and of EPZ regulatory authorities in 29 countries gathered in Manila, Philippines, to officially form WEPZA, or the "World Export Processing Zones Association" as it was then known.
From 1978 to 1985, WEPZA consisted of representatives of governments with EPZs and operated under the auspices of UNIDO. For UNIDO, WEPZA provided crucial training programs for zone officials. Other partner organizations also supplied UNIDO with studies to help improve EPZ performance: the Asian Productivity Organization, which measured the productivity and efficiency of zones, and the International Labor Organization, which measured the social, economic, and employment-generation effects of zones.
In 1985, WEPZA reorganized as an independent entity. Instead of consisting exclusively of governmental members, WEPZA became a unique hybrid––with both governmental and non-governmental members, including private EPZ developers and operators and consultants. The Flagstaff Institute, a non-profit research organization, took over management of WEPZA as its secretariat.
In the succeeding years, WEPZA membership grew to include 60 EPZs and 66 countries and supplied training seminars, conferences, and workshops dedicated to improving the performance of EPZs as a vehicle for development. It published a Journal, then called the Journal of the Flagstaff Institute, which provided a full breadth of empirical scholarship on EPZs for the public.
The zone concept continues to evolve and expand to include new terminology and functions. There are now "special economic zones," "free zones," "free trade zones," "foreign trade zones," "industrial development zones," and so on. Because of this, WEPZA is no longer an acronym but exists to promote all special-status spatial-development zones. WEPZA has also renamed its Journal as the Flagstaff Journal of Special Economic Zones.
Today, WEPZA is an association of zone operators and developers, consultants, and academics offering practical assistance to zones through collaboration and knowledge sharing. Its efforts continue to enhance the development impact of zones all over the world. Read more about WEPZA's current mission.
The History of Export Processing Zones
This working paper, titled Moving Companies: How U.S. Engineering Consulting Firms Created the Global Assembly Line, 1949–1969, by Eda Kranakis covers the role of Richard Bolin who, when working for Arthur D. Little, designed Operation Bootstrap in Puerto Rico and then the maquiladora plan for Mexico, ultimately leading to his efforts to found WEPZA from 1974 onward.
Conferences and Presentations
Since 1978, WEPZA has hosted and presented at numerous conferences. Click here for information and presentations from these conferences.