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The middle east free zones

The Middle East is now the fourth largest free zone host region in the world.

The Middle East is home to 160 free zones – 7.3% of the global share – making it the fourth largest host region in the world. Dubai alone hosts 17.5% of the region’s zones.

In terms of number of free zones, the UAE boasts 47, home to more than 20,000 companies, followed by Jordan with 40 zones, Iran with 21, and Turkey with 20. Within the UAE, Dubai hosts 28 free zones, Abu Dhabi eight, Ras Al Khaimah four and Sharjah three, according to the WFZO.

Dubai’s crown jewel is the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), which boasted 14,805 companies at the start of 2018, and was named fDi’s Global Free Zone of the Year for 2018 for the fourth year running. 

Free zones comprise nearly 30% of all global trade, and in 2014, they accounted for approximately 33% of the UAE’s non-oil trade and 37% of Dubai’s non-oil trade.

Dubai has long been a destination of choice for those wanting low tax rates and quick access to international markets. However, in recent years, the UAE has ramped up its focus on increasing inward investment incentives

For example, the government legalised 100% foreign ownership and set up an additional free zone area in Abu Dhabi. Moreover, the Abu Dhabi Airports Free Zone recently reduced business set-up costs by more than 65%.

Neighbouring Qatar is also pursuing a free zone FDI push, opening two special economic zones in 2019: Umm Al Houl and Ras Bu Fontas.

If the drop in the oil price in early 2015 underscored one important lesson for petrochemical-reliant economies in the Middle East, it was that economic diversification is essential for long-term growth objectives. The logistics industry is the backbone of the UAE economy, particularly Dubai, and other Gulf states are following that example, expanding and constructing ports alongside large industrial zones. Regionally, more than US $35-billion is being spent on developing and expanding port infrastructure to drive trade and created jobs that aren’t reliant on the oil and gas industry.

The World Bank defines free trade zones as "in, duty-free areas, offering warehousing, storage, and distribution facilities for trade, transshipment, and re-export operations. Free-trade zones can also be defined as labor-intensive manufacturing centers that involve the import of raw materials or components and the export of factory products, but this is a dated definition as more and more free trade zones focus on service industries such as software, back-office operations, research, and financial services.

 A free zone may also exist as the result of a mutual agreement between several countries to create a customs-free zone in a designated area.

If multiple countries conclude an agreement to create a joint free zone, all barriers to trade are abolished. No duties or taxes are payed within the free zone. This freedom from barriers attracts companies from all sectors and encourages them to relocate to the free zone and to register new companies. A free zone optimizes the movement of goods between the individual countries in the zone and offers the opportunity to either secure or disallow imports from third party countries.

The most important types of free trade zones are free zones, free port zones and export processing zones.

We have the pleasure to represent these free trade zones:


:ISBI Istanbul Ataturk Airport from 2012-present



from 2012-present: Port ISBI Cyprus Free zone



We as Sohatoos are more than happy to help and guide global investors to take a closer look at opportunities in free trade zones.