World Investment Report 2017 Investment and Digital Economy

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Publication Date: 
09 June 2017
Author: 
UNCTAD
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The new report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) investigates the effect that digital is having on global investment patterns and reveals the top 100 digital multinational companies and their impact. Digital multinational enterprises (MNEs), such as Internet platforms and electronic commerce (e commerce) and digital content firms, are expanding at a dramatically faster rate than other multinationals. The World Investment Report 2017 includes a new list of the top 100 digital MNEs and their global footprint, and shows that some digital multinationals reached a massive scale in only a few years.

Digital MNEs make about 70% of their sales abroad, with only 40% of their assets based outside home countries. This results in the creation of fewer jobs directly in host countries. However, investments from digital MNEs can increase competitiveness and contribute to digital development. The report also lists the top 100 global MNEs, and shows that between 2010 and 2015, the number of technology companies more than doubled. The assets of such companies increased by 65%, and their revenues and employees increased by about 30%, against flat trends for other multinationals in the top 100. A lack of regional diversity in the ownership of digital firms is creating a concentration in global investment patterns. Over 60 of the top 100 digital MNEs are from the United States of America, followed by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Germany. This concentration is more pronounced among Internet platforms: 10 out of 11 major digital multinationals in the ranking are from the United States.

The presence of top digital MNEs in developing economies remains marginal, with only 4 companies in the top 100 headquartered in developing nations. Furthermore, of the top 100 digital MNEs, only 13% of affiliates are based in developing and transition economies, compared to about 30% for MNEs overall. “The digital economy has important implications for investment, and investment is crucial for digital development,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD. “Developing countries cannot be left behind; we need to create enabling policies that close the digital divide in global investment,” he added.

Investment regulations and policies for the promotion of investment must also consider the new cross-border operating models of multinationals. Many industries are being impacted by digitalization; of the top 10 traditional industries most affected, 5 coincide with the top 10 industries in which countries maintain investment restrictions (see figure). Digital MNEs are expanding into other highly regulated sectors, and archaic regulations could become obsolete or an unintended drag on digital adoption. UNCTAD surveyed more than 100 countries on their digital development strategies. The findings, which are outlined in the World Investment Report 2017, highlight that many strategies fail to adequately address investment needs. Fewer than 25% contain details on investment requirements for infrastructure, and fewer than 5% on investment needs beyond infrastructure, including for the development of digital industries. Furthermore, investment promotion agencies are rarely involved in the formulation of digital development strategies.
Infrastructure investment requirements for achieving adequate digital connectivity for most developing countries could be less daunting than often supposed. UNCTAD estimates put the cost at less than $100 billion. In the World Investment Report 2017, UNCTAD proposes investment policies that strengthen digital development strategies. This means creating and maintaining a conducive regulatory framework for digital firms, as well as active support measures, which may include establishing technology or innovation hubs; building or improving e-government services; and supporting venture capital funding and other innovative financing approaches.

Foreign Direct Investment to Africa fell by a moderate three percent In 2016

​Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to Africa continued to decline in 2016, by three per cent to $59 billion, according to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2017. However, inflows to the continent remained unevenly distributed, with five countries (Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia) accounting for 57 per cent of the total. Robust FDI to Egypt continued to boost inflows to North Africa, which rose by 11 per cent, to $14.5 billion. The flows to Egypt, up 17 per cent to $8.1 billion, were driven mainly by the discovery of gas reserves by foreign firms. As subdued commodity prices diminished investor interest in Sub-Saharan Africa, its inflows declined by 7 per cent, to $45 billion. FDI flows to Central Africa decreased by 15 per cent in 2016, to $5.1 billion. The Democratic Republic of the Congo saw a decline of 28 per cent to $1.2 billion, as the country attracted investment only in its mineral sector. Nevertheless, flows to some countries rose. The Congo went up by eight per cent to $2 billion, mostly owing to continued investments by Chinese companies.
East Africa received $7.1 billion in FDI in 2016, up 13 per cent from 2015. Flows to Ethiopia rose by 46 per cent to $3.2 billion, propelled by investments in infrastructure and manufacturing. FDI flows to West Africa grew by 12 per cent to $11.4 billion in 2016, supported by recovering investment in Nigeria, although flows remained well below record levels.

FDI inflows to Ghana increased by nine per cent to $3.5 billion, driven by both hydrocarbons and cocoa processing projects. In Southern Africa, FDI inflows fell by 18 per cent to $21.2 billion, as flows declined in eight of the ten countries in the subregion. In Angola, FDI flows declined by 11 per cent to $14.4 billion as reinvested earnings shrank. South Africa, the economic powerhouse of the continent, continued to underperform, with FDI at a paltry $2.3 billion, up 31 per cent from 2015’s record low, but still well below its past average.
Multinational enterprises (MNEs) from developed economies remained the largest investors in Africa, although investors from developing economies (such as China, India, and South Africa) are increasingly active. FDI outflows from Africa remained flat, at $18.2 billion (up 1 per cent from 2015). The reduced investments from South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana and Nigeria, in that order, were more than offset by the rise of outflows from Angola, the region’s largest investor. FDI inflows to Africa are expected to increase in 2017, to about $65 billion, in view of modest oil price rises and a potential upturn in non-oil FDI. Growing regional integration should foster Africa’s competitive global integration and encourage stronger FDI flows.