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October 28, 2020

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UN report: Virus to drag down FDI

The coronavirus crisis is expected to drag foreign direct investment down by up to 40 percent this year, with a recovery not expected until 2022, UN economists said yesterday.

A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade, Investment and Development found that lockdowns and the prospect of a deep global recession had dramatically shrunk FDI, which is a measure of cross-border private sector investment.

The agency said that worldwide, FDI was 49 percent lower during the first half of 2020 than during the same period in 2019 — and that every major form of foreign investment took a hit, ranging from infrastructure funding to mergers and acquisitions.

“The decline was quite drastic,” James Zhan, UNCTAD’s investment and enterprise chief, told a virtual press conference.

The rate of decline is expected to slow in the second half of 2020, resulting in a drop of 30 to 40 percent over the whole year, with FDI expected to retract much more moderately in 2021 before recovering in 2022.

“The outlook remains highly uncertain, depending on the duration of the health crisis and on the effectiveness of policy interventions to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic,” Zhan said.

“Geopolitical risks also continue to add to the uncertainty.”

In the first half of this year, developed economies saw the biggest fall in investment, UNCTAD said, with FDI in the wealthier countries witnessing a 75-percent drop from 2019 levels to just US$98 billion during the first half of the year — a level last seen in 1994.

“The trend was exacerbated by sharply negative inflows in European economies,” the report said.

Flows to Europe in the first half of 2020 turned negative for the first time, hitting minus US$7 billion.

FDI flows in North America fell by 56 percent during the six-month period.

Among major FDI recipients in 2019, flows declined most strongly in Italy (74 percent), the United States (61 percent), Brazil (48 percent) and Australia (40 percent).

On a more positive note, FDI flows to developing economies decreased by less than expected at just 16 percent, it said.

Flows were 28 percent lower in Africa, 25 percent down in Latin America and the Caribbean, but just 12 percent lower in Asia, mainly due to resilient investment in China.

FDI flows to so-called transition economies plummeted 81 percent, pulled down by a strong decline in Russia, the report found.

UNCTAD said the outlook was poor, because new green-field investment project announcements dropped by 37 percent in the first eight months of the year to US$358 billion.

Green-field investment — considered an indicator of future FDI trends — typically refers to projects that create new physical facilities which are considered productive, in part because they typically create jobs.


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