Growth and the Quality of Foreign Direct Investment:
Is All FDI Equal?
Executive Summary — Understanding the effect of foreign direct investment is important for two main reasons: It informs foreign investment policy, and it has implications for the effect of rapidly growing investment flows on the process of economic development. While academics tend to treat foreign direct investment as a homogenous capital flow, policymakers maintain that some FDI projects are better than others. In fact, national policies toward FDI seek to attract some types of FDI while regulating other types, reflecting a belief among policymakers that FDI projects differ greatly in terms of the national benefits to be derived from them. Policymakers from Dublin to Beijing, for instance, have implemented complex FDI regimes in order to influence the nature of FDI projects attracted to their shores. Using a dataset on 29 countries, Alfaro and Charlton distinguished different qualities of FDI in order to examine the various links between types of FDI and growth. Key concepts include:
- FDI at the industry level is associated with higher growth in value added. The relation is stronger for industries with higher skill requirements and for industries more reliant on external capital.
- FDI quality is associated with positive and economically significant growth.
- More research on the consequences of FDI is needed before promoting FDI.
In this paper we distinguish different "qualities" of FDI to re-examine the relationship between FDI and growth. We use 'quality' to mean the effect of a unit of FDI on economic growth. However, this is difficult to establish because it is a function of many different country and project characteristics which are often hard to measure. Hence, we differentiate "quality FDI" in several different ways. First, we look at the possibility that the effects of FDI differ by sector. Second, we differentiate FDI based on objective qualitative industry characteristics including the average skill intensity and reliance on external capital. Third, we use a new dataset on industry-level targeting to analyze quality FDI based on the subjective preferences expressed by the receiving countries themselves. Finally, we use a two-stage least squares methodology to control for measurement error and endogeneity. Exploiting a new comprehensive industry level data set of 29 countries between 1985 and 2000, we find that the growth effects of FDI increase when we account for the quality of FDI.