Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are an administratively separate part of the Polish territory where business can be conducted on preferential conditions as laid down under the Act on Special Economic Zones of 20 October 1994 (Journal of Laws of 2007, no. 42, item 274, consolidated text, as amended) and under all the related implementing regulations. At the moment, fourteen special economic zones operate in Poland.
The preferential conditions of conducting business in special economic zones consist above all in the availability of state aid to the investors, which most often takes the form of tax exemptions. Consequently, by operating in SEZs, companies intending to invest there stand to obtain fully legal tax savings. This can be argued to be a type of tax optimisation vehicle offered by the state. Frequently presence in the zone may be decisive for the investment making economic sense at all.
In order to become eligible for state aid, it is necessary to procure a permit for conducting business operations in SEZ. The permits are issued by way of combined tender or negotiations by companies administering the zones. The terms and procedure for conducting tenders and negotiations are laid down, separately for each zone, under a Regulation of the Minister of Economy and Labour on tenders and negotiations and the criteria for assessment of projects proposed by undertakings in the special economic zone.
The success of Polish SEZs is best demonstrated by the fact that as many as five of them were included in the ranking list of the best fifty special economic zones published in 2012 in FDI’s report Global Free Zones of the Future 2012/2013. Among the features distinguishing Polish special economic zones, the authors of the report cited the high quality of infrastructure.
Without any doubt investors will recognise it as good news that on 23 July 2013 the Council of Ministers adopted fourteen resolutions extending the operation of the special economic zones to 2026. Under the previous provisions, the special economic zones were to operate only until the end of 2020. The news should be particularly welcome by investors operating in sectors offering a low rate of return. The amending regulations apply to the following special economic zones: Kamiennogórska, Katowicka, Kostrzyńsko-Słubicka, Krakowska, Legnicka, Łódzka, Mielecka, Pomorska, Słupska, Starachowicka, Suwalska, Tarnobrzeska, Wałbrzyska, Warmińsko-Mazurska.
It is worth noting that work is currently underway on a Bill containing the underlying assumptions for an Act Amending the Act on Special Economic Zones and Certain Other Acts. The Bill proposes among others to put in place a requirement for unpaid taxes to be returned in the event of expiry of a permit whose conditions have not been fully satisfied or if the principles of granting state aid have been violated, on the same terms as in the case of permit withdrawal. The Bill also adds details to the concept of state aid as expressed in the Act on Special Economic Zones, by stipulating that exemption from income tax represents state aid. The Bill also elaborates on the concept of maximum state aid by introducing the principle of accumulation for the purposes of tax legislation as well as consolidating the procedures for inspection of undertakings located in SEZs and the procedures for amending permits to operate in SEZs.