Is foreign direct investment good for the poor? A review and stocktake

Few issues in the development process raise as much heat as the role of the international private sector in the form of transnational corporations (TNCs) and foreign direct investment (FDI). This article reviews the most recent research on the impact of FDI on economic growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. A brief history of FDI is given. This is followed by discussion of the conceptual transmission mechanisms linking FDI, growth, and poverty. The available empirical evidence is then discussed. It is argued that it is not a question of whether FDI is good or bad for social and economic development, but that its impact is determined by the terms upon which FDI is accepted. Although overall the evidence on FDI, growth, and poverty is not conclusive, research has had a tendency to suggest the benefits of FDI are linked to the FDI policy regime; and that the current orthodoxy of maintaining a highly liberal FDI policy regime leads to a situation whereby developing countries have a precarious trade-off to make between attracting FDI and maintaining policy instruments to extract the benefits of any inflows.