The World Free Zones Organisation (World FZO), a global not-for-profit organisation, held its annual Board of Directors meeting and a "Multilateral Lateral Organisations Tour" in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of its expansion and leadership growth strategies.

Representatives from the World Trade Organisation (WTO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Road Transport Union (IRU), International Organisation of Employers (IOE), and International Labour Organisation (ILO) attended the meeting. Dr. Mohammed Al Zarooni, Chairman, led the World FZO Representatives. They included José Contreras (Vice Chairman, Dominican Republic), Emeka Ene (Secretary, Nigeria) and Martin Ibarra (Advisor to the Board, Colombia).

The board discussed areas for international integration and cooperation to enable global free zones to enhance their economic strengths, highlight their essential role in the global trade and supply chains, overcome challenges and create opportunities for growth and prosperity in their commercial and labour markets. Further, the task force will enable the World FZO to integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in all new and existing free zones and extend its scope to companies managing a fleet of vehicles moving across borders.

Dr. Al Zarooni said, "Free zones across the globe play key roles in stimulating and reviving global trade and ensuring its sustainable investment flows. This directly impacts national economies, by providing job opportunities where free zones globally provide more than 80 million jobs. We believe that integration and cooperation with international organisations will double those opportunities, positively impacting all parties. We also seek to enhance the security amid illicit trade practices through following the highest international standards by members by implementing the best practices approved and shared by our organisation."

The transport and movement of goods across borders experienced disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A WTO report shows a 10 to 20 percent decline in the trade value of goods and services in 2020 from the pandemic. This further magnified the relevance of the nearly 4,000 free zones globally as accelerators of trade and economic growth.

With this, the WTO task force will seek to re-build supply capacity, manage trade restrictions and promote digitalisation in supply chains. In addition, it will highlight the significance of investments in logistics and expand trade finance to strengthen the contribution to economic recovery. There is also a need to enhance the global value chain that caters to critical sectors such as agriculture and food processing, pharmaceutical, information and communications technology, and health.

The World FZO also aims to advance its sustainability goals in line with the UN SDGs; hence, the task force with UNCTAD will leverage the Izdihar Index to encourage free zones to adopt eco-friendly and sustainable practices. In addition, it will ensure a safe and secure work environment for employees to increase productivity, improve performance, ethics, morale, health and welfare. In addition, it will capacitate employees with technical knowledge and digital skills through the Digital Zone Certification Programme, to boost digital business operations.

The Izdihar Index, which means prosperity in Arabic, is the main instrument of the Free Zone of the Future (FZF) Programme launched by the World FZO as a tool that offers methods to identify areas of weakness within the operational structure and measure peak performance.

In addition, the task force with the ILO and IOE will help companies in reskilling and upskilling their workforce through different programmes such as Online Management Diploma, Small, Medium, Enterprise Educational Programme (SMEEP), and others.

Meanwhile, the World FZO will extend its reach to the International Road Transport Union (IRU) to promote sustainability in its fleet of vehicles. Transport and logistic companies crossing borders will adhere to Izdihar for green and safe mobility through the planned task force, in line with the UN SDGs.

Commenting on the meeting, José Contreras said, "We will continue to work with other organisations to give our members further unrivalled access to world-class experience, network, services as well as in ensuring that they contribute to the development of the host countries."

Source: WAM - Emirates News Agency