Dong-A Ilbo, quoting sources in China, said the communist state's parliament would pass a law next month declaring the zones in five or six cities.
The newspaper -- describing the move as a limited Chinese-style economic reform -- said foreign firms would be allowed to rent cheaply for 50 years, either on their own or jointly with a local partner.
Much of the North's heavy industry has been hard hit by shortages of raw material and power. The country also suffers persistent severe food shortages, reportedly worsened by a bungled currency revaluation last November.
The North's pursuit of ballistic missiles and atomic weapons has brought US and UN sanctions, which have deterred foreign investment.
A policy-setting New Year editorial stressed the need to develop light industry and agriculture to boost living standards, with the help of foreign investment.
Dong-A said the zones would be in cities including the capital Pyongyang; the southern border city of Kaesong which already has a Seoul-funded jointly-run industrial estate; Sinuiju on the northwestern border with China and Rason in the northeast near the Chinese and Russian border.
The North has already declared special zones in Sinuiju and Rason and it was unclear how the reported new law would change their status.
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