The World Free Zones Organisation (World FZO) and El Consorci de la Zona Franca de Barcelona (CZFB) held its fifth Annual International Conference and Exhibition (AICE) between June 26 – 28 2019 at the Palau de Congressos de Barcelona in Spain. The event brought together free zone officials and partners from 73 countries.
Under the theme of ‘Free Zone 4.0 meets Economy 4.0’, Dr. Mohammed Al Zarooni, Chairperson of the World FZO, delivered the keynote speech to open the ceremony. This was followed by remarks from Pere Navarro, Special Delegate of the State in the Consorcio de la Zona Franca de Barcelona; Jordi Martí, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, Area of Work, Economy and Strategic Planning; Pere Aragonés, Vice President of the Catalonian Government and Secretary of Economy and Finance; and María Jesús Montero, Minister of Finance and Civil Service In his opening speech, Dr. Mohammed Al Zarooni told the audience that: “As trade and tariff wars, along with political upheaval in mature economies, threaten to tear up the established order, free zones have to rethink their position. It is more important now than ever to keep close ties between free zones and to have a global organization able to speak on their collective behalf with major trade bodies like the OECD, the World Trade Organization or the World Customs Organization.”
Al Zarooni added: “To remain competitive, free zones must adapt quickly and learn to remain agile in the medium to long term.” He added that, “Five years ago, this organization was born with 14 founding members. Now, the World Free Zones Organisation supports their activities across multiple continents and over 120 countries working as a single global network.”
The event also witnessed an official launch of three new online platforms for World FZO tools and services: the Open University online platform containing free and paid courses for any member free zone to access and follow; the Izdihar Index online platform where member free zones can upload their performance data to access exclusive World FZO analytics and map their way to optimal performance; and the B2B online platform where free zones can interact together seamlessly to pitch and secure business, and access escrow settlement services internationally.
Five Free zones receive Safe Zone certificate A meeting of the OECD took place to present the results of the pilot phase of Safe Zone program, where 5 free zones entered this program. The five were presented with their certificates for participating in the program. These were Dubai Airport Free Zone, Le Free Port Luxemburg, Bogotá Free Trade Zone, Consorci de la Zona Franca de Barcelona and Klaipedia Free Economic Zone Management Company in Lithuania.
2020 edition of AICE will be held in Dubai and 2021 in Jamaica During the conference, it was confirmed that the 2020 edition of AICE will be held in Dubai and that Jamaica will host the 2021 edition of the event. A General Assembly meeting was held by the World FZO voting members and its Board of Directors, led by the chairperson Dr. Mohammed Al Zarooni.
The meeting allowed all the members to collectively vote on the approval of the annual report, 2018 financial statements, as well as the budgeting for 2019. The members also voted on the election or re-election of directors of the Association after five directors chose to retire from the Board this year.
The new board of directors will include the following members Blanca Sorigue, Cesare Zingone, Gustavo Gonzalez de Vega, Juan Opertti, Juma Al Matrooshi, Philippe Dauvergne and Srikanth Badiga Dr. Mohammed Al Zarooni recognised the retired members for their loyalty, service and continuous efforts towards achieving the vision of the World FZO. He also reiterated the key role played by a board member in supporting the success of a global organization like the world FZO that offers a wide scope of activities and goals.
Public sessions and panel discussions The conference held a number of public sessions and panel discussions, bringing together world-class speakers, senior policy makers, academics, multi-lateral organizations and global business leaders, from across the world. It also gathered delegations from international free zones to share best practices, examine solutions to current challenges faced by free zones, and foster public awareness around free zones’ role and contribution to economic expansion.
During the conference, panel discussions were held to highlight different topics, including transparency, data tracking, e-commerce, logistics and many more, taking into account how digital transformation of the Global Value Chain is affecting free zones worldwide. The seminar examined ways to build sustainable competitive advantages, effective strategies and solid value propositions to better penetrate the Global Supply and Value Chain.
Apart from the many experts and specialists taking part in these panels, each discussion featured a keynote speaker. Henrik Kristensen, Head of Logistics and Supply Chain Management for DP World Americas, offered his insight on the logistics industry, while Leendert van Delft, VP of e-commerce for DHL Express, presented his e-commerce findings, and Dr. Eesa Bastaki, President of the University of Dubai, outlined the opportunities of e-Learning for free zones and their member companies.
The sessions were followed by a Gala Dinner in the presence of His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain. Dr Mohammed Al Zarooni thanked His Majesty, “for honoring us with his presence here this evening. This is a testament to Spain’s visionary leadership within the European Union to bolster support for free zones and the many solutions that they can provide to our current global challenges.” This elegant event provided more networking opportunities for attending free zone delegates, supporting an ethos of shared knowledge fostered by the World FZO.
A leading platform for sector development As the only industry event dedicated exclusively to free zones and their global activities, the AICE offers unparalleled access to training, intelligence, expertise and data under the steering hand of the World FZO. The event serves the organization’s mission to deliver knowledge, networking and support to all its member free zones around the globe for them to achieve optimal performance in all their activities.
In its five years since the creation of the World FZO, the AICE has consistently provided insight and constructive solutions to help free zones enhance their services and deliver more value to all their stakeholders, from their host economies to their member companies. The combination of detailed workshops, documented live discussions and published results, along with crucial networking events for all attendees, makes the AICE a must-attend event for any free zone in the world.
The exhibition is one of the essential parts of the conference agenda, representing an economic platform to support the free zones businesses worldwide. This platform gives members the opportunity to market their activities and share them with a wider audience.
This is the second AICE to be held outside Dubai, UAE, with Barcelona being chosen as the destination for its solid free zone support through the efforts of CZFB. This year, the event will run at the same time as SIL Barcelona, the leading exhibition for international logistics and material handling, as well as the eDelivery Barcelona expo and congress, the Logistics and Transport MedaForum and the MedaPorts Summit, all held in Barcelona, Spain.