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foreign direct investment

Looping in local suppliers rather than forcing out international firms

Anabel Gonzalez's picture



An instructor at the Savar EPZ training center in Dhaka, Bangladesh, helps young women being trained to make shirts. Photo Credit: © Dominic Chavez/The World Bank


Increasing economic prosperity for developing countries is related not only to rising trade, but also – and more important – to transforming the traditional composition of what they produce and export. In the world today, many developing countries strive to diversify away from exporting commodities toward higher-value-added goods and services.

The evolution of trade and investment flows over the last three decades shows that foreign direct investment (FDI) can be a powerful driver of exports, a creator of well-paid new jobs and a crucial source of financing. More important, FDI may become a very rapid and effective engine to promote the transfer of technology, know-how and new business practices, helping to raise productivity and setting a country on the course of convergence. This is particularly the case of efficiency-seeking FDI – that is, FDI that locates productive processes in a country seeking to enhance its ability to better compete in international markets-.
 
The benefits of FDI are further leveraged when local firms can catalyze the presence of foreign investors to connect to global and regional value chains (GVCs). As a result of new international firms investing in a host country, great new opportunities arise for local enterprises to supply the inputs – be it goods or services – that their international counterparts need.

This has been the experience of Bangladesh, where local suppliers have grown in tandem with foreign investors in the garment sector. It is through linkages with international investors that local firms can gradually be lured into producing new goods and services that, until then, were not produced in the host country.  This is how economic diversification and greater value added are generated.

Multinational enterprises (MNEs) and their key partners (Tier 1 suppliers) are generally keen to source locally if a competitive local supplier can be found. However, they are also reluctant to absorb high search-and-find costs, and they will typically not invest in assisting local suppliers with upgrading efforts. Likewise, local firms are generally keen to supply to foreign firms, but are often not ready to make the necessary investments in technology and in processes to meet strict quality standards without a clear line of sight on potential payoff for such investment.

The false debate: choosing between promoting FDI and domestic investment

Cecile Fruman's picture

Should we focus our efforts on foreign investment or domestic investment?” Policymakers in developing economies often ask this question when the World Bank Group advises them on how to improve their countries’ investment climate or investment promotion efforts. Our answer is: They do not need to choose one over the other. In order to grow and diversify, an economy needs both domestic investment and foreign direct investment (FDI).  The two forms of private investments can be strong complements.
 
Recognizing the Potential Benefits of FDI
 
The economic benefits of FDI were identified a long time ago. A Harvard Business School paper published 30 years ago summarized the benefits of FDI based on an extensive review of economic literature (Wint, 1986). In short: Benefits traditionally attributed to FDI include job creation, transfer of technology and know-how (including modern managerial and business practices), access to international markets, and access to international financing.

Granted, some of these benefits also occur thanks to domestic investment. For instance, domestic investments create jobs in a host economy – usually many more than FDI. However: What FDI does well is enhance or maximize some of the benefits already generated by domestic investments in a developing economy.
 
To stay with the example of job creation: Foreign firms might not create as many jobs as the domestic private sector, but they often create better-paid jobs that require higher skills. That helps elevate the skills level in host economies. The same can be said for other FDI benefits. For instance, more advanced technologies and managerial or marketing practices can be introduced in a developing economy through foreign investment, and at a much faster rate than would be the case if only domestic investment were allowed. Moreover, through partnerships with foreign investors who have existing distribution channels and commercial arrangements around the world, developing countries’ firms can benefit from increased market access.



In China, millions of rural residents each year migrate to cities to seek work. As they find jobs in modernizing industries, they gain the skills they need to earn higher incomes. In this photo, an employe in Chongqing is learning higher-level computer skills. Photo: Li Wenyong / The World Bank
 

Why does efficiency-seeking FDI matter?

Cecile Fruman's picture
Today we face an interesting paradox. The number of people in the world living in extreme poverty has decreased dramatically in the past three decades. In 1981 half of the population in the developing world lived in extreme poverty. By 2010, despite a 60 percent increase in the developing world’s population, that figure dropped to 21 percent.

While extreme poverty has diminished, however, the gap between the richest and poorest countries has increased dramatically. In 1776, when Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, the richest country in the world was approximately four times wealthier than the poorest. Today, the world’s richest country is more than 400 times richer than the poorest.

What separates them?

One answer is knowledge, diversification and the composition of exports, all areas in which foreign direct investment (FDI) has an important role to play. 

FDI matters, but not all FDI is created equal
 
While FDI is important for economic growth, not all FDI is the same. One way to differentiate is by an investor’s motivations using a framework established by British economist John Dunning:
  • Natural resource-seeking investment: Motivated by investor interest in accessing and exploiting natural resources.
  • Market-seeking investment: Motivated by investor interest in serving domestic or regional markets.
  • Strategic asset-seeking investment: Motivated by investor interest in acquiring strategic assets (brands, human capital, distribution networks, etc.) that will enable a firm to compete in a given market. Takes place through mergers and acquisitions.
  • Efficiency-seeking investment: FDI that comes into a country seeking to benefit from factors that enable it to compete in international markets.

This last category – efficiency-seeking FDI – is particularly important for countries looking to integrate into the global economy and move up the value chain.
 

Foreign Investment Policy: Encouraging news from China

Xavier Forneris's picture

The Investment Policy team of the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice has learned that China is about to adopt a new foreign investment law that would bring about several potentially significant improvements to the current investment regime. Although we have not yet seen an English-language version of the proposed law, and therefore have to rely for the moment on accounts by international law firms and chambers of commerce that have seen (and sometimes commented on) the draft law, I wanted to share the news with the Private Sector Development community because of the new law’s potential impact – not just in China but across East Asia.
 
China has very significant political and economic clout in the region and across the developing world. Its reforms are closely watched, and they could inspire many other developing and emerging economies to follow suit.
 
After soliciting comments on the three existing laws, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) issued a draft of the Foreign Investment Law on January 19, also soliciting public comment – a process that, incidentally, should also inspire many countries.
 
If passed, the new law would abrogate and ‘unify’ the three current laws that regulate foreign investment: namely, the Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Law, the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise Law and the Sino-Foreign Contractual Joint Venture Law. Although going from three laws to one can in itself be a positive thing – simplifying the regulatory environment usually is a good idea – what really matters to the investor community is the substantive or procedural changes that the new law would introduce.
 
A first change is that the new law would adopt a “negative list” approach, modeled on the system in place in the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ). As a reminder: Under a negative-list approach, certain sectors where foreign investment is restricted, capped or prohibited are specifically enumerated on a negative list. And foreign investment in restricted sectors can only proceed through some sort of ex ante screening and approval mechanism by a governmental authority or agency. On the other hand, under such a system, investments in sectors that are not on the negative list can usually proceed without any prior screening and approval, using, for example, the normal company registration process.
 
The negative-list approach is one that T&C’s Investment Policy Team often recommends to our client countries, because it fosters transparency and predictability and because it reduces government discretion over the admission of investors. Obviously, in this case, we would need to see the actual negative list before we can offer a more definitive assessment. But assuming that the number of sectors on the negative list is not excessive or, better, that sectors previously closed or restricted are now open to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the impact of this single change could be very significant.

New Voices in Investment: How Emerging Market Multinationals Decide Where, Why, and Why Not to Invest

Gonzalo Varela's picture

Emerging market multinationals (EMMs) have become increasingly salient players in global markets. In 2013, one out of every three dollars invested abroad originated from multinationals in emerging economies.

Up until now, we have had a limited understanding of the characteristics, motivations, and strategies of these firms. Why do EMMs decide to invest abroad? In which markets do they concentrate their investments and why? And how do their strategies and needs compare to those of traditional multinationals from developed countries?

In a book we will launch tomorrow at the World Bank, “New Voices in Investment,” we address these questions using a World Bank and UNIDO-funded survey of 713 firms from four emerging economies: Brazil, India, Korea, and South Africa.

Fostering Private Sector Development in Fragile States: A Piece of Cake?

Steve Utterwulghe's picture
Private sector development (PSD) plays a crucial role in post-conflict economic development and poverty alleviation. Fragile states, however, face major challenges, such as difficult access to finance, power and markets; poor infrastructure; high levels of corruption; and a lack of transparency in the regulatory environment. 

The private sector has demonstrated its resilience in the face of conflict and fragility, operating at the informal level and delivering services that are traditionally the mandate of public institutions. However, in post-conflict situations, PSD can have predatory aspects, thriving on the institutional and regulatory vacuum that prevails. The private sector will need to create 90 percent of jobs worldwide to meet the international community’s antipoverty goals, so pro-poor and pro-growth strategies need to focus on strengthening the positive aspects of PSD, even while tackling its negative aspects.

Winning the Game of Mining Taxation

Paul Barbour's picture

The last few years have brought an uptick in the number of mining investments that have been the subject of disputes between investors and governments. This trend is of considerable concern to the players in the sector across the globe.
 
Yet, there is a wealth of wisdom to be—pardon the pun—mined from the literature over the past few decades in an attempt to distill what the main risk factors are in agreements that govern investments in the sector, with specific focus on taxation regimes. 

Number of Expropriatory Acts by Sector – three-year rolling averages
 
Source: Chris Hajzler (2010), “Expropriation of Foreign Direct Investments: Sectoral Patterns from 1993 to 2006,” University of Otago in MIGA,World Investment and Political Risk 2011

Are Rates of Return in Places that are Fragile and Affected by Conflict Really Higher?

Paul Barbour's picture

Supporting populations in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS) is a key priority for the World Bank Group.  The Group’s President, Jim Yong Kim, has repeatedly stressed the importance of finding ways to bring sustainable peace and development to these difficult contexts. According to the World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development, more than 1.5 billion people in today’s world live in FCS, or in countries with high levels of criminal violence.

Apart from the very human cost of fragility, it colors foreign investors’ perceptions of risk, especially political risk, affecting private sector activity. This begets a vicious cycle, where economies worsen, increasing fragility. The importance of political risk, including political violence, in the perceptions of investors is well documented, including in the annual MIGA-EIU surveys presented in MIGA’s World Investment and Political Risk report. In particular, MIGA’s 2011 report focused specifically on investing into FCS, and the survey results demonstrate that political violence remains a very serious factor inhibiting investment.

Aside from capital, foreign direct investment (FDI) can bring essential knowledge and technology across borders. These benefits are often what make FDI so sought-after by policy makers. But investors have to consider the return on their investment relative to the risks they are taking, especially political risks such as expropriation, currency convertibility and transfer restrictions, breach of contract by the sovereign, and war and civil disturbance.
 

Agricultural FDI: Risky Business?

Khalid Alsuhaibani's picture

Al-Arabiya reported a few weeks ago that the political crisis in Ukraine and Russia is threatening the availability of food in Egypt and Jordan. Food prices becoming hostage to political crises is certainly not a new phenomenon: food plays an important role in the stability of societies through its availability, affordability, and quality. We learned this lesson from the 1789 French Revolution and more recently, many commentators link soaring food prices in 2010 with the events leading up to the ‘Arab Spring.’ The latter is not surprising when Arab countries import 56% of their cereal consumption, and some Arab countries import 100% of their wheat consumption. These recent market dynamics have led many countries to revisit their food security strategies with an eye to securing food supply.

There is a vigorous debate over the reasons pertaining to the food price increases in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Many highlight the effects of seasonal, short and medium term factors such as weather changes and biofuel-related crop conversions as well as long term factors such as population growth, income growth, and climate change. These price increases in food have enormous effects on people, for example, the 2008 food crisis pushed 105 million people into poverty.
 

Let the lights shine, hopefully for 24 hours a day (as needed)

Antoine Jaoude's picture

Growing up in war-torn Beirut, I experienced the Lebanese Civil War from a childlike perspective. I was in middle school at the time when a power outage lingered for months on end. Reviewing textbooks and doing homework at night was no easy task. The flickers of candlelight reflecting on the glossy pages of my textbook made reading very laborious—not to mention how it compromised my safety and shrank my attention span. I was 12 years old at the time. Today, I am 34. It has been 23 years since the war ended and power shortage in Lebanon remains.  
 
In the aftermath of the civil war, there was a national consensus to privatize and decentralize the power sector in Lebanon. Decentralization would shift control from the ministerial level to distinct municipalities across the country. Privatization in particular would help the power grid expand to meet the growing demands of population increase. Both moves would involve inflows of foreign direct investment, and open up competition, and create more jobs. However, political disagreements erupted around the intricacies of privatization policies and decrees and any further attempt to privatize or decentralize has floundered.
 
Today, Electricite du Liban (EDL), a state-owned enterprise run by the Ministry of Energy and Water controls 90 percent of power generators, transmission, and distribution services in the country. A surge of demand after the civil war has pushed EDL to further expand the power grid.
 


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