Global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) fell 19 percent last year to an estimated US$1.2 trillion, largely caused by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax reforms, the United Nations Trade and Development Agency UNCTAD has said.
FDI, comprising cross-border mergers and acquisitions (M&A), intra-company loans and investment in start-up projects abroad, is a bellwether of globalisation and a potential sign of growth of corporate supply chains and future trade ties.
But it can also go into reverse as companies pull investments out of foreign projects or repatriate earnings. The lowest net global FDI since 2009 was the result of U.S. firms repatriating US$300 billion or more in accumulated earnings to take advantage of Trump’s tax break.
Net investment flows into Europe slumped by an unprecedented 73 percent to US$100 billion, a level not seen since the 1990s, as U.S. firms pulled years of profits out of affiliates in Ireland, Switzerland and elsewhere.
The UNCTAD investment chief James Zhan told reporters that U.S. repatriation of profits had slowed down and an FDI rebound was possible this year, but there were also growing risks.
“It’s what we call the potential trade-investment-technology war that will affect global investment, and we see that the rising protectionist measures of a number of countries and the prospects for global economic growth are worsening,” Zhan said.
The United States remained the top destination for FDI in 2018, attracting US$226 billion, 18 percent less than in 2017.
Second was China, up 3 percent to US$142 billion, and third was Britain, which saw a 20 percent jump to US$122 billion, mainly due to a doubling of reinvested earnings and a tripling in the value of M&A deals.
“Despite the huge uncertainty related to the Brexit, the UK government has intensified its effort to promote and facilitate new investment, as well as to retain existing investment in the country, including formulating a strategy and adopting new measures for attracting foreign investment,” Zhan told Reuters.