UNCTAD says uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic’s evolution and the global investment policy environment will continue to affect FDI flows in 2021. For developing countries, the prospects for 2021 are a major concern.
Global foreign direct investment (FDI) collapsed in 2020, falling 42% from $1.5 trillion in 2019 to an estimated $859 billion, according to an UNCTAD Investment Trends Monitor published on 24 January. Such a low level was last seen in the 1990s and is more than 30% below the investment trough that followed the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
Despite projections for the global economy to recover in 2021 – albeit hesitant and uneven – UNCTAD expects FDI flows to remain weak due to uncertainty over the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization had projected a 5-10% FDI slide in 2021 in last year’s World Investment Report.
“The effects of the pandemic on investment will linger,” said James Zhan, director of UNCTAD’s investment division. “Investors are likely to remain cautious in committing capital to new overseas productive assets.”
Developing economies account for record share of FDI
Although FDI flows to developing economies decreased by 12% to an estimated $616 billion, they accounted for 72% of global FDI – the highest share on record.
The fall was highly uneven across developing regions: -37% in Latin America and the Caribbean, -18% in Africa and -4% in developing countries in Asia. FDI to transition economies declined by 77% to $13 billion.
While developing countries in Asia weathered the storm well as a group, attracting an estimated $476 billion in FDI in 2020, flows to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) contracted by 31% to $107 billion, due to a decline in investment to the largest recipients in the subregion.
In terms of individual nations, China was the world’s largest FDI recipient, with flows to the Asian giant rising by 4% to $163 billion. High-tech industries saw an increase of 11% in 2020, and cross-border M&As rose by 54%, mostly in ICT and pharmaceutical industries.
“A return to positive GDP growth (+2.3%) and the government’s targeted investment facilitation programme helped stabilize investment after the early lockdown,” the report says.
India, another major emerging economy, also recorded positive growth (13%), boosted by investments in the digital sector.