Is FDI Integrating the World Economy?



FDI's spectacular growth, in diverse forms, during the past two decades represented an important force generating greater economic integration. FDI increased substantially in relation to global productive capacity, cross border mergers and acquisitions component of FDI put domestic corporate laggards on notice, and the spread of FDI to non-tradable service sectors generated the possibility that these traditionally low productivity sectors would be brought closer to the standards of international efficiency. Yet, FDI did not perform an integrating role in a more fundamental sense. There is little evidence that FDI served to speed up income convergence across countries. This was the case for two reasons. First, FDI flows remained highly concentrated. Second, the benefits from FDI appear to have accrued principally where conditions were already conducive to investment and growth. Hence, though cross-country disciplines through bilateral, regional and multilateral efforts are important in reducing the distortions that lead to misallocation of capital, domestic efforts to raise absorptive capacity will ultimately be critical. Efforts to increase labour mobility, as foreseen, for example, under GATS, could have a significant effect in raising the benefits from FDI as the more mobile labour serves to bridge the cultural, institutional and contractual differences across nations.