AICE 2017 / Designing Next Generation Free Zones

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Designing Next Generation Free Zones

We are living in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Two­‐speed economic performance, starkly divergent monetary policies, geopolitical uncertainties, currency gyrations and similar factors make for VUCA. Technology is a game-­changer. Analytics, Cloud computing, Big Data, Internet of Things (and now, Internet of Everything), Robotics, Artificial Intelligence . . . it is a long list). More often than not, technological advances are disruptive. No business is allowed to stay in a ‘comfort zone’ for long.

Without doubt, Free Zones perform a useful economic function. However, around the world, there is an unmistakable feeling that continues to grow. It is that free zones have stayed in a certain comfort zone in recent decades. Admittedly, free zones have reasonably kept pace with the demands of the times.

But under the present rapidly evolving conditions (political, technological, financial and environmental), it would be unwise to expect that free zones would be immune from the onslaught of VUCA conditions. If anything, free zones may be more vulnerable given that they often sustain and thrive on policy support; and government policies are increasingly coming under close scrutiny, domestically and globally.

So, Free Zones as economic entities have to anticipate change. Free zones have to prepare for the future and be ‘future­‐ready’ now. They must crystal gaze into the future and build likely scenarios, design (survival) strategies and plan outcomes. They have to be ‘fit and fast’ in order to adapt to inexorable generational changes in a way that they are not inundated by event dynamics.

Enter the idea of 'Designing Next Generation Free Zones.

It is in this context that the theme for the next Annual International Conference and Exhibition 2017 to be held in Colombia is an exciting one: ‘Designing Next Generation Free Zones’..

What does it take to design the next generation free zones? The three principal pillars on which the entire edifice of Next Generation Free Zones stands include Best Practices; Innovation; and Sustainability. But to many, some of these concepts appear nebulous; and some even question the appropriateness or applicability of these to Free Zones.

AICE 2017 would not only anticipate the emerging scenario but also seek to examine in-­depth the foundational strength of the three pillars. For instance, what are the components of Best Practices and what would it take for a free zone organization to be regarded as following best‐in‐class practices? Are benchmarks possible and what could be the metrics?

Take Innovation. What triggers innovation? Is it by accident or by design? How to marry entrepreneurship and innovative spirit? What is in it for SMEs, for instance? Admittedly, SMEs are key drivers of business growth and their contribution is significant.

Again, Sustainability - the buzzword in corporate circles and among policymakers - is a less­‐understood concept. What constitutes sustainable practice? What have free zones got to do with sustainability and how does it go beyond the well known triple bottom line approach?

On a global platform these and related questions will be debated and an attempt will be made to look for winning solutions with a long‐term perspective. The key is to look at familiar things from unfamiliar angles.

AICE 2017 will provide new insights into the theme through stimulating presentations and discussions and a knowledge-­based guidance to set the direction for Next Generation Free Zones.

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