Special Economic Zones Op-Ed from Morial Shah

The Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan. Pakistan’s current SEZ law hasn’t been nearly as successful as it could be, according to Politas team member Morial Shah.

The Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan. Pakistan’s current SEZ law hasn’t been nearly as successful as it could be, according to Politas team member Morial Shah.

When building a special economic zone, governments have the opportunity to create something totally new and exciting for a community and nation. SEZs often offer the hope of innovation, technological progress, and policy reform. Countries adapting new SEZ laws almost always promise an economic stimulus. In many cases, special economic zones offer exactly that; but as a public policy consulting firm specializing in SEZs, we know a lot can happen between the promises and the results. 

It all depends on how you set up the project to function.

That's what the latest op-ed from Politas team member Morial Shah discusses so well. Morial is from Pakistan and is a legal academic, policy consultant, and legislative drafter, as well as a full-time faculty member at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi.

"SEZs do not work magic," she says in the article. "They are neither good nor bad for the economy. They are what we make of them." 

She argues that Pakistan's current SEZ law has not been nearly as successful as it could be. To support her case, she describes the two types of successful SEZ models, outlines the dangers of bureaucracy, and calls for SEZs "that allow space for disruption and innovation." 

That’s what we do here at Politas. As a leading legal and public policy consulting firm with a specialty in SEZs, we know what makes a successful program thrive. We build a legal framework that encourages invention and reform and addresses problems unique to each nation considering an SEZ program.

You can read Morial's op-ed at The Express Tribune

If you would like to discuss building a successful special economic zones project, contact us today. 

How I (Accidentally) Became an SEZ Lawyer

SEZ Lawyer Michael Castle Miller

In our work as special economic zones legal consultants, we meet a lot of young people and law students who want to know how to become an SEZ lawyer (a lawyer that focuses on special economic zones). 

This particular field is young, so there’s not always a clear path to follow. For me, the process took a long time and led to a few turns I didn’t expect. Hopefully in detailing some of my experiences, I can help younger students with their own professional ambitions.

Starting with Vision

I went into law school with a vague but sure feeling of what I wanted to accomplish there. I felt a calling toward building cities, and because I’d taken time off and worked for a few years after my undergraduate studies, I was old enough and wise enough to know it was really what I wanted to do. I believed (and still do) that basic governance structures are what makes a society thrive and that a good government unlocks human potential. This became even clearer to me as my wife and I began volunteering with refugee communities and saw their experiences coming from and settling into new cities. 

I pursued that vision into law school, but at the time I had no idea what an SEZ was, let alone an SEZ lawyer. Instead, I just focused on that singular vision of city-building. I tried to learn everything I could about government, policy, and development.

Courses and Extracurriculars For SEZ Law

In terms of classes, I took international law, international business transactions, investor-state arbitration, project finance, and international tax law, as well as soaking up everything I could from required classes like constitutional law. I got the most out of school that I could by pursuing both a law degree and an M.A. in international relations. 

Outside of class, I joined the Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG). Washington College of Law partners with this fantastic organization to offer pro-bono assistance to post-conflict countries. In my work there as a student, I helped develop constitutions and draft legislation, which was invaluable experience for later. From there, I studied abroad at the Hague. I knew international law would serve me well, and to me, that was worth bypassing the normal summer associate program. I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone by any means; but it fit within my singular vision and helped me to get an internship at the World Bank. From there, I made it a goal to meet anyone I possibly could working in the fields of law that most fit my goal of building cities.

Networking and Post-Law School

I had the opportunity to meet some incredible minds in international development and urban policy, including Paul Romer and many of our excellent team members here at Politas. Those meetings also introduced me to the concept of SEZs. Through those many meetings at the end of my law school studies, I began to see how becoming an SEZ lawyer could help achieve my original vision. By using SEZs, I realized, you could advance innovative reforms and allow countries to test out new development policies. Many SEZs had grown into thriving cities. This gave structure to that vision years earlier and a clearer path for my next steps. 

After passing the New York Bar (a test that mentions absolutely nothing about SEZs), I became the managing director of a small special economic zones legal and policy consulting firm. Suddenly I was an SEZ lawyer, thrown into the world of special zones almost by surprise. Finding out about SEZs, passing the bar, and getting that first job all happened within a few months. 

If you’re an aspiring attorney interested in a niche field, here’s my advice: Learn everything you can. Don’t step into your field pretending to be an expert. Allow yourself to be open by asking questions and learning from anyone who will meet with you. You never know where it will lead. I know I didn’t.

Congratulations to Paul Romer

Politas Influencer Wins Nobel Prize

paul romer.jpeg

Congratulations to Paul Romer, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in economic sciences! Romer won the Nobel for his pioneering work in endogenous technical change, which sparked a new movement in development economics called new growth theory. That movement measured the impact that technological change and new ideas can have on an economy.

After his groundbreaking work, Paul began a mission to explore how ideas in government and policy impact economic growth. He recognized that good governance and public policy have a much bigger impact on economic growth than anything else and that, unfortunately, good ideas in governance don’t spread as rapidly across the planet as new technology does.

As a proposed solution to this problem, Paul developed the idea of “charter cities,” which aimed to introduce better forms of governance to areas affected by corruption, poverty, and authoritarianism. The conversation around charter cities has since evolved as a way for sovereign countries to test out new laws and experiment with the best ways to govern.

Over the course of 2014, while working at the World Bank, Politas founder Michael Castle Miller met with Paul in New York to discuss Michael’s upcoming publication “The Ciudades Modelo Project.”* Their conversation led Michael to some of Paul’s talented colleagues at NYU’s Marron Institute, who became integral parts of Refugee Cities and Politas – including Brandon Fuller, who serves as the Refugee Cities board chair, and Patrick Lamson-Hall, an urban planner and economic development expert on the Politas team.

Paul’s ideas on how to spread good governance through special jurisdictions are at the heart of what we do at Politas. We’re so thrilled to see his ideas get the recognition they deserve.

To learn more about Paul’s work, follow him on Twitter or visit his website at https://paulmromer.net/

*Full info: Michael Castle Miller, The Ciudades Modelo Project: Testing the Legality of Paul Romer’s Charter Cities Concept by Analyzing the Constitutionality of the Honduran Zones for Employment and Economic Development, 22 WILLAMETTE J. INT’L L. & DISP. RESOL. (2015)