Global FDI decline persists, hopes for modest recovery in 2024

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FDI, UNCTAD, United Nations

The global economic landscape has been marred by a series of challenges over the past few years, leading to significant shifts in foreign direct investment (FDI) trends. According to the latest report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), worldwide FDI fell for the second consecutive year in 2023. This decline, attributed to a myriad of factors including economic slowdowns, trade tensions, and geopolitical instability, has had a pronounced impact on both developed and developing economies.

UNCTAD’s report indicates that global FDI dropped by two percent in 2023, reaching a total of $1.3 trillion. While this decline might seem modest at first glance, the underlying figures reveal a more troubling trend. Excluding a few exceptions, the overall decrease in FDI was actually more than 10 percent for the second year in a row. This sharper decline underscores the severity of the economic and political challenges facing the global economy.

The impact of falling FDI is particularly acute for developing countries, where such investments constitute the largest source of external financing. In 2023, FDI flows to developing nations fell by seven percent, totaling $867 billion. This downturn was most pronounced in Asia, which saw an eight percent decrease in FDI, highlighting the region’s vulnerability to global economic shifts.

While the overall trend points to a decline, the regional variations in FDI flows are noteworthy. In Africa, FDI flows decreased by three percent to $53 billion. Despite this drop, UNCTAD highlighted a positive development: the continent is attracting a growing share of global mega projects. In 2023, Africa saw six mega projects, each valued at more than $5 billion. The largest of these was a green hydrogen project in Mauritania, expected to generate an investment of $34 billion. This project alone is several multiples of Mauritania’s gross domestic product (GDP), indicating its potential to transform the nation’s economy.

For developed countries, the decline in FDI was heavily influenced by the financial transactions of multinational enterprises. Efforts to implement a global minimum tax rate on corporate profits also played a significant role. Inflows to Europe and North America were down by 14 percent and five percent, respectively. This decline reflects the broader challenges faced by developed economies, including regulatory changes and the increasing complexity of international financial transactions.

The UNCTAD report attributes the decline in global FDI to the ongoing economic slowdown and escalating geopolitical tensions. The global economy has been grappling with a series of shocks, from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to disruptions caused by geopolitical conflicts. These factors have created an environment of uncertainty, discouraging investors from committing to long-term projects.

Moreover, trade tensions between major economies, particularly between the United States and China, have further exacerbated the situation. These tensions have led to disruptions in global supply chains, increased tariffs, and a general climate of unpredictability. Investors, wary of potential losses, have become more cautious, leading to a reduction in FDI flows.

Despite the challenging landscape, UNCTAD’s chief, Rebeca Grynspan, expressed cautious optimism about the prospects for 2024. “There are signs that there will be a modest growth in 2024,” she told reporters in Geneva. This optimism is based on several positive developments, including the easing of financial conditions and concerted efforts towards investment facilitation.

Investment facilitation has become a prominent feature of national policies and international agreements, aimed at creating a more conducive environment for FDI. These efforts are expected to yield results in the coming years, potentially reversing the downward trend observed in recent years.

Grynspan emphasized that while the growth might be modest, it represents a change in tendency. “It’s a modest growth, but it’s a change of tendency, and so we are more optimistic towards 2024,” she said. This shift in trend, if sustained, could signal a gradual recovery in global FDI flows.

One of the standout features of the 2023 FDI landscape is the increasing attractiveness of Africa for global mega projects. The green hydrogen project in Mauritania is a prime example. Such projects not only bring substantial financial investments but also have the potential to drive economic development, create jobs, and foster technological advancements.

UNCTAD’s report suggests that Africa’s share of global mega projects is growing, a trend that could significantly alter the continent’s economic trajectory. These projects, often driven by the need for sustainable and renewable energy solutions, align with global priorities for combating climate change. As such, they attract substantial international funding and expertise, providing a much-needed boost to African economies.

The decline in global FDI underscores the interconnectedness of the world’s economies and the ripple effects of geopolitical and economic disruptions. For developing countries, in particular, the reduction in FDI poses significant challenges, given its role as a primary source of external financing. However, the report from UNCTAD also highlights areas of resilience and potential growth, particularly in the form of mega projects in regions like Africa.

As the global community navigates these uncertain times, the focus on facilitating investment and creating stable economic environments will be crucial. The cautious optimism expressed by UNCTAD for 2024 suggests that with concerted efforts and strategic investments, a turnaround in FDI trends is possible. The key will be sustaining these efforts and addressing the underlying issues that have contributed to the decline in global FDI.

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