Graduated sovereignty and global governance gaps: Special economic zones and the illicit trade in tobacco products

Jul 26, 2017

From: Political Geography, Volume 59, July 2017, Pages 72-81

Chris Holden


• Exceptions to regulations permitted by graduated sovereignty lead to governance gaps.
• Special economic zones facilitate illicit trade in tobacco products.
• The neo-liberal global economy has engendered a regulatory ‘race to the bottom’.


Illicit trade in tobacco products has been a significant problem globally for many years. It allows cigarettes to be sold far below their legal price and thus contributes to higher consumption, morbidity and mortality, and deprives state treasuries of a substantial amount of revenue. This article identifies special economic zones (SEZs), particularly free trade zones, as a key conduit for this illicit trade. The development of SEZs as weak points in the global governance architecture is explained with reference to the concept of ‘graduated sovereignty’, whereby the uniform management of territory by modern states has given way to a more spatially selective form of territorial governance, in which some slices of territory are more fully integrated into the world economy than others via various forms of differential regulation. Attempts to comprehensively (re)regulate SEZs, in the face of growing evidence of the dysfunctionalities that they can engender, have so far been unsuccessful. It is concluded that the neo-liberal global economy has facilitated a regulatory ‘race to the bottom’, a problem that can only ultimately be overcome by international negotiation and agreement.


Graduated sovereignty
Illicit trade
Special economic zones
Free trade zones
Transnational crime

No Responses so far

Leave a Feedback