Special economic zones (SEZs), following the enormous success of China, have been widely imitated. But it is to be entirely anticipated that the results would vary greatly. Earlier avatars of SEZs in the form of Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs) and Export Promotion Zones (EPZs) were important in the export led growth of east Asia, especially South Korea. But more than SEZs or EPZs per se it is the pursuit of “export led growth policies” which underlie the success of exporting and hence of SEZs. SEZs/EPZs can be seen as a (not necessary) microeconomic and spatial initiative in the pursuit of ELG under rather special circumstances by China, and South Korea and Taiwan to more limited extent in their early phases of transformation. In other countries not pursuing ELG the success of SEZs/EPZs has been rather modest. The roles played by the SEZs/ EPZs etc., whatever their original purpose, were constrained and determined by the macroeconomic policies, trade policies, and regional alignments. There is little meaning in studying SEZs beyond their layout and design without reference to these broader trade and macroeconomic policies. Thus, early pioneers like India could make little out of their EPZs since the policies are severely biased against exports. We characterise Export Led Growth (ELG) as the strategy that has allowed the late twentieth century industrialisations, which is far from both import substitution (as conventionally understood) and laissez faire, and to be the simultaneous pursuit of both IS and EP. With this framework we are able to understand the role and evolution of SEZs in a wide variety of countries. These help us to explain and anticipate that unless the policy turns sharply to favour OF exports (more correctly tradables over non tradables), the success of Indian SEZs would be modest and nowhere near that registered in China. Following from the characterisation of Import Substitution, Export Led Growth and Laissez Fair, the paper brings out the nature and performance of “special zones” when these are promoted under the very same regimes. 

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