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A free trade zone (FTZ) or export processing zone (EPZ) is an area of a country where some normal trade barriers such as tariffs and quotas are eliminated and bureaucratic requirements are lowered in hopes of attracting new business and foreign investments.It is a region where a group of countries has agreed to reduce or eliminate trade barriers.Free trade zones can be defined as labor intensive manufacturing centers that involve the import of raw materials or components and the export of factory products. The world's first Free Trade Zone was established in Shannon, Co. Clare, Ireland Shannon Free Zone.This was an attempt by the Irish Government to promote employment within a rural area, make use of a small regional airport and generate revenue for the Irish economy. It was hugely successful, and is still in operation today.

Most FTZs are located in developing countries: Brazil, Indonesia, El Salvador, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Kenya, and Madagascar have EPZ programs.In 1997, 93 countries had set up export processing zones (EPZs) employing 22.5 million people, and five years later, in 2003, EPZs in 116 countries employed 43 million people.

Corporations setting up in a zone may be given tax breaks as an incentive. Usually, these zones are set up in underdeveloped parts of the host country; the rationale is that the zones will attract employers and thus reduce poverty and unemployment, and stimulate the area's economy. These zones are often used by multinational corporations to set up factories to produce goods (such as clothing or shoes).

Free trade zones in Latin America date back to the early decades of the 20th century. The first free trade regulations in this region were enacted in Argentina and Uruguay in the 1920s. The Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) was created in the 1960 Treaty of Montevideo by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. However, the rapid development of free trade zones across the region dates from the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Latin American Integration Association is a Latin American trade integration association, based in Montevideo.

Free Trade Zones are also known as Special Economic Zones in some countries. Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been established in many countries as testing grounds for the implementation of liberal market economy principles. SEZs are viewed as instruments to enhance the acceptability and the credibility of the transformation policies and to attract domestic and foreign investment.

In 1999, there were 43 million people working in about 3000 FTZs spanning 116 countries producing clothes, shoes, sneakers, electronics, and toys. The basic objectives of EPZs are to enhance foreign exchange earnings, develop export-oriented industries and to generate employment opportunities.