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Columbia FDI Perspectives

Perspectives on topical foreign direct investment issues by

the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment

No. 95   May 20, 2013

Editor-in-Chief: Karl P. Sauvant ([log in to unmask])

Managing Editor: Jennifer Reimer ([log in to unmask])

How do consumer-focused multinational enterprises affect emerging markets?


Terutomo Ozawa*


In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith identified the ultimate purpose of economic growth as consumption, and conceptualized its income-propelled progression from “necessaries” to “conveniencies” to “elegancies.”[1] Modern consumer-focused multinational enterprises (CF-MNEs) usually produce “conveniencies” and “elegancies,” though some develop the local supply of “necessaries” (e.g., milk for Nestle, and chickens and potatoes for KFC). Most CF-MNEs originated in the advanced world since the end of World War II, though several were spawned in prewar days.


In contrast, conventional old-style MNEs in extractive industries have been around ever since the Industrial Revolution led to the buildup of heavy and chemical industries in the industrialized world that process raw materials into industrial products. They hunt for overseas resources and once epitomized colonialism and industrialism -- as opposed to consumerism that underlies a motive of CF-MNEs to go abroad. Particularly, colonial MNEs and their home countries used to hinder industrialization in emerging markets by “kicking away the ladder”[2] in fear of fostering would-be rivals.


By comparison, CF-MNEs desire the growth of emerging markets simply because they need larger markets. Their home countries themselves are helping emerging markets industrialize via economic aid and technical support and opening up for trade and investment, especially by MNEs. After all, today’s MNEs disseminate industrial knowledge and promote trade. In other words, developed countries are willingly “providing the ladder.” China’s successful catch-up strategy to capitalize on the modern-day opportunities attests to this distinctive sea change for emerging markets.


CF-MNEs’ engagement in emerging markets normally begins with food and beverages and proceeds to personal care items, to white goods and electronics, to motorbikes and automobiles, to luxuries and leisure. Coca Cola, Heineken, KFC, McDonald’s, and Pepsi and the like are usually among the first-wave investors. Coca Cola has already invested practically everywhere throughout the world. It is advancing into Myanmar, leaving only Cuba and North Korea still Coca Cola deprived.


Nestle and Kraft (the two largest processed food companies), P&G and Unilever (the two biggest personal-care product makers), and Avon, Revlon and Shiseido (beauty good producers) are usually among the second-wave MNEs. These MNEs react quickly to early signs of “middle class” growth -- a middle class defined, for instance, as those income earners with US$ 4 and up per day in sub-Saharan Africa. Even consumers in such low-income markets can afford “conveniencies,” such as toothpaste, shampoo and low-end cosmetics. Local demand for private transportation normally moves from bicycles to motorcycles to passenger cars.


A McKinsey study summarized the evolutionary consumption pattern: “[S]nacks and bottled drinks…accelerate at a relatively early stage of the income curve, beauty products somewhat later, and luxury products, such as fashion and fine wines, later still.”[3] This consumption sequence is, however, usually time-compressed because of sharp income inequality that accompanies catch-up growth for a variety of reasons (including corruption). Consequently, an emerging market’s demand structure is vertically segmented. The rich indulge in conspicuous consumption (“elegancies”), and a growing middle class enjoys “conveniencies,” while most people are still in poverty, subsisting on “necessaries.” Thus, these divergent patterns occur concurrently at the macro-level, as well as sequentially at the individual level.


Since CF-MNEs seize on any growing emerging market, they are likely to steer host economies toward domestic consumption-based growth. New consumer goods are incentives to work (though “elegancies” often motivate bribery/theft) and “modernize” traditional consumption habits. New hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and other amenities also cater to MNEs, businesspeople and tourists who pile into fast-growing countries, accelerating growth.


Furthermore, CF-MNEs’ supply chains -- like those for Apple’s iPad, Toyota’s cars and Zara’s apparel -- offer opportunities to participate in intra-company/product trade and production, as input suppliers or final assemblers. These supply chains are a new ladder of export-fueled growth with access to the advanced management know-how, technologies and marketing channels necessarily imparted to local partners for effective chain operations.[4]


Caveats are in order, nevertheless, lest host economies become too consumption-oriented in the early catch-up phases when scarce resources need to be allocated to infrastructure and industrial capacity building -- and when their balances of payments remain precarious. A lack of savings necessitates borrowing from overseas, exposing emerging host markets to the risk of currency/financial crises. Rampant consumerism leads to waste and environmental problems. Modern consumer goods/services often crowd out local cultures and traditions, although sometimes crowding in indigenous goods such as raw materials (e.g., coconuts for Nestle and palm oil for P&G). Any egregious consumption inequality stemming from income mal-distribution and whipped up by ostentatious consumerism evokes discontent in politically fragile emerging markets. Despite these risks of imported consumerism, however, CF-MNEs facilitate an income-ratcheted progression of consumption, thereby achieving the Smithian goal of growth in emerging markets.

The material in this Perspective may be reprinted if accompanied by the following acknowledgment: “Terutomo Ozawa, ‘How do consumer-focused multinational enterprises affect emerging markets?,’ Columbia FDI Perspectives, No. 95, May 20, 2013. Reprinted with permission from the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment (www.vcc.columbia.edu).” A copy should kindly be sent to the Vale Columbia Center at [log in to unmask].


* Terutomo Ozawa ([log in to unmask]) is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Colorado State University and Research Associate for the Center on Japanese Economy and Business, Columbia Business School. An earlier and expanded version of this Perspective was presented at a workshop, the German Historical Institute, Washington D.C., November 2012. This essay is also woven into a book manuscript in progress: The Evolution of the World Economy: The “Flying-Geese” Theory of Multinational Corporations and Structural Transformation (Cheltenham, Glos., UK: Edward Elgar, forthcoming). The author is grateful to Matthias Kipping and Christina Lubinski for their comments and encouragement. The author also wishes to thank Thomas Jost, Herbert Oberhaensli and Ravi Ramamurti for their helpful peer reviews. The views expressed by the author of this Perspective do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Columbia University or its partners and supporters. Columbia FDI Perspectives (ISSN 2158-3579) is a peer-reviewed series.

[1] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (London: UOP, 1880), pp. 404-405, available: http://archive.org/stream/aninquiryintothe01smituoft#page/n9/mode/2up.

[2] This phrase, attributed to Friedrich List, was adopted as the title of a book by Ha-Joon Chang, Kicking Away the Ladder (London: Wimbledon Publishing, 2002).

[3] “Winning the $30 trillion decathlon: Going for gold in emerging markets,” McKinsey Quarterly 3, 2012, p. 9.

[4] “Chains of gold: Modern supply chains are making it easier for economies to industrialize,” Economist, Aug. 4, 2012.

For further information, including information regarding submitting to the Perspectives, please contact: Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, Jennifer Reimer, jreimer01@gmail.com. In addition to her role as Research Associate for the VCC, Ms. Reimer is Legal Counsel for LG Electronics’ Regional Headquarters for the Middle East and Africa.

The Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment (VCC), led by Lisa Sachs, is a joint center of Columbia Law School and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. It is the only applied research center and forum dedicated to the study, practice and discussion of sustainable international investment, through interdisciplinary research, advisory projects, multi-stakeholder dialogue, educational programs, and the development of resources and tools.

Most recent Columbia FDI Perspectives

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All previous FDI Perspectives are available at http://www.vcc.columbia.edu/content/fdi-perspectives.

Karl P. Sauvant, Ph.D.
Resident Senior Fellow
Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment
Columbia Law School - Earth Institute
Columbia University
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The Yearbook on International Investment Law and Policy 2011-2012 was released by Oxford University Press in January 2013. For details please see www.vcc.columbia.edu.
The following ebooks are available free of charge from the same website: FDI Perspectives: Issues in International Investment, Inward and Outward FDI Country Profiles, MNEs from Emerging Markets: New Players in the World FDI Market.
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