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As Myanmar navigates its rapid economic expansion triggered by the end of military rule in 2010, the development of special economic zones (SEZs) is a key element of the country’s industrialization plan. SEZs aim to increase foreign investment and economic growth using special incentives, services and regulations. Their success is usually viewed in terms of economic impacts, overlooking wider social and environmental impacts.

This report draws on evidence from the South-East Asia region to explore the impacts of SEZs, with case studies from Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. It shows that without transparency and accountable governance, or a clear strategy for local linkages, SEZs are more likely to result in harmful environmental and social impacts and fail to deliver expected benefits. As Myanmar proceeds with several SEZ developments, fundamentally transforming livelihoods, it has an opportunity to learn from experiences in the region, to mitigate the negative impacts and to take action to improve prospects for local communities.

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