Zonamerica, Uruguay’s first and largest private special economic zone (SEZ), is exploring new options for its international expansion, which has already seen the company export its business model to Colombia and China. It is considering new locations in Latin America, Asia and Africa to create “a developed country business environment inside a developing country”, founder and CEO Orlando Dovat said in an interview with Spanish news agency Europa Press in October 2019.

Zonamerica was the first private SEZ to open in Uruguay under the free zone law. Initially launched as a logistics and distribution platform, Zonamerica Uruguay has evolved into a multi-platform SEZ for local and international companies, with a major focus on technology and high value-added services. Today, the zone includes 30 buildings over an area of 92 hectares in the capital city, Montevideo.

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More than 350 companies, employing a total 10,000 people, operate from the zone, with a particular concentration on private banks and financial companies – 60 companies are active in the financial industry, making up 80% of the wealth management companies registered with Uruguay’s central bank. Overall, Zonamerica Uruguay contributes to 1.8% of national GDP, according to the National Institute of Statistics.  

Two-part expansion

Zonamerica selected the city of Cali in Colombia for the first part of its international expansion. It teamed up with Colombian Grupo Carvajal to establish a new state-of-the-art SEZ tailored to companies devoted to technology and high value-added services featuring 18 buildings (two of them have been inaugurated in 2018 and the company now plans to add one building each year until it reaches capacity) and a data centre extending over a total area of 38 hectares and potentially employing 17,000 people.

China, Uruguay’s main trade partner, was next in the company’s international expansion strategy. In February 2018, it launched a business hub in Foshan, in the southern province of Guangdong, to stimulate business opportunities between China and Latin America and offer existing clients in Uruguay a base to develop their businesses overseas.

“As it has been with Zonamerica Uruguay and Zonamerica Colombia, Zonamerica China has been designed to facilitate the competitive development of companies. We are trying to optimise Chinese operations and investment with Uruguay, and therefore with the whole of Latin America,” Mr Dovat said in a press release. The company has not disclosed any new expansion in the short term, but has signalled that it is screening locations for future possible investment that would add new momentum to its international expansion strategy.