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Columbia FDI Perspectives

Perspectives on topical foreign direct investment issues
Editor-in-Chief: Karl P. Sauvant ([log in to unmask])
Managing Editor: Riccardo Loschi ([log in to unmask])

The Columbia FDI Perspectives are a forum for public debate. The views expressed by the authors do not reflect the opinions of CCSI or our partners and supporters.

No. 307  June 14, 2021
The WTO negotiations on an Investment Facilitation Framework for Development (IFF4D) are in an advanced stage. A key objective is to improve transparency regarding investment facilitation procedures. One would expect host countries seeking to attract FDI to have a self-interest in being transparent about their FDI regulatory frameworks and related matters: it reduces transaction costs for investors and facilitates locational decisions.
An assessment of a selective sample of 60 countries[1]—57 WTO members and 3 observers—provides insights on the extent to which countries currently make FDI information easily available, electronically, to foreign investors. These insights are based on desk research limited to the websites of investment promotion agencies (IPAs),[2] the principal agencies tasked with investment facilitation and often the first-best option for foreign investors to obtain detailed information on a country’s investment framework. These are the results: 
  • Laws and regulations. Fourteen countries out of the 60 examined make texts of their FDI laws and regulations available, with some of them however providing only partial information. Two seemingly provide links to their FDI laws and regulations, but these are defective.
  • Administrative rulings. Only one country provides the text of FDI-related administrative rulings.
  • Procedures for setting up a business. Thirty-five countries provide summaries of the procedures foreign investors need to follow to invest in their economies, with one country providing only a partial summary.
  • Entry conditions. Thirty-five countries list these conditions, but only 20 discuss the procedures for meeting these conditions. Some countries detail entry conditions, but not on their IPA websites.
  • Fees/charges associated with FDI entry. Twenty-seven countries specify these.
  • Contact information of competent authorities. Most countries provide some form of contact information (email address, online contact forms, telephone numbers): 39 countries provide their IPA email addresses and 10 the email addresses of IPA officials.
More broadly, a few countries have defective links to documents or tabs that may provide relevant information, while others either do not have easily accessible IPA websites or do not make certain investor information available to the general public.
Overall, developing countries are better in providing electronic texts of their FDI laws and regulations; the Africa region dominates this category. The least developed countries (LDCs) covered in this survey do not perform as well as other developing countries across the different regions. Among developing countries, fewer Asian countries provide information on FDI procedures compared with counterparts in Africa. All countries provide the information in at least one official WTO language.
These results are sobering. After all, making this kind of information easily available electronically is neither very difficult nor expensive. It is, in fact, quite basic; and, as mentioned before, it is in the self-interest of countries to make this information available to investors.
Hence, the results suggest that both developed and developing countries have work to do to enhance transparency. If other and more complicated measures were to be added—including measures that help directly to increase FDI’s development impact (e.g., supplier-development programs) that ought to feature in an IFF4D[3]—developed countries could be expected to perform much better when compared to developed countries. This is, indeed, clearly documented elsewhere.[4]
The implications are clear: many countries must make substantial efforts to strengthen their investment-facilitation capacity. Developed countries and some advanced developing countries can do that on their own, at least in most cases. But many other developing countries, and especially the LDCs, simply do not have the resources to do so. They need substantial technical assistance to considerably strengthen their investment-facilitation capacity to be successful in the highly competitive FDI world market. They will need such capacity also because future investment treaties will contain investment-facilitation provisions, and because separate investment-facilitation agreements will be negotiated.
As to the IFF4D, developing countries, and especially LDCs, need to know that, if and when they sign on to this agreement, they can count on extensive technical assistance to implement their commitments. The time to make firm and substantial commitments on technical assistance is now.

* Karl P. Sauvant ([log in to unmask]) is Resident Senior Fellow, Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, a joint center of Columbia Law School and the Earth Institute, Columbia University; Nancy N. Stephen ([log in to unmask]) is a third-year law student at Columbia Law School. The authors are grateful to Axel Berger, Ali Dadkhah and Sara Fialho Esposito for their helpful peer reviews.
[1] Fifteen countries each in Africa, Asia and Latin America (including 11 least developed countries); and 15 developed countries.
[2] Other websites may contain relevant information, e.g., focal-point websites or official gazettes. They were not researched for this Perspective as its focus is on “easily availableinformation.
The material in this Perspective may be reprinted if accompanied by the following acknowledgment: “Karl P. Sauvant and Nancy N. Stephen, ‘Increasing transparency in investment facilitation: focused support is needed,’ Columbia FDI Perspectives No. 307, June 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission from the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (” A copy should kindly be sent to the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment at [log in to unmask].
For further information, including information regarding submission to the Perspectives, please contact: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, Riccardo Loschi, [log in to unmask].
Most recent Columbia FDI Perspectives   
  • No. 306, Priyanka Kher, Trang Thu Tran, Sarah Hebous, ‘Reducing regulatory risk to attract and retain FDI,’ Columbia FDI Perspectives, May 31, 2021
  • No. 305, Munir Akram, “Mobilizing FDI for sustainable infrastructure investment,” Columbia FDI Perspectives, May 17, 2021
  • No. 304, Anne van Aaken and Diane Desierto, “The Hague Rules on Business and Human Rights Arbitration,” Columbia FDI Perspectives, May 3, 2021
All previous FDI Perspectives are available at

Karl P. Sauvant, Ph.D.
Resident Senior Fellow
Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment
Columbia Law School - Earth Institute
(212) 854-0689
Fax: (212) 854-7946
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Karl P. Sauvant, PhD

Resident Senior Fellow

Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment
Columbia Law School - The Earth Institute, Columbia University
435 West 116th St., Rm. JGH 825, New York, NY 10027
p(212) 854 0689 | cell: (646) 724 5600 e: [log in to unmask] | t: @CCSI_Columbia

"Increasing Transparency in Investment Facilitation: Focussed Support is Needed", "A Multilateral Investment Facilitation Agreement can Help Advancing Development", Investment Facilitation for Development: A Toolkit for Policymakers, "More Attention to Policies! Improving the Distribution of FDI Benefits. The Need for Policy-oriented Research, Advice and Advocacy", "More and Better Investment Now!", "Facilitating Sustainable FDI in a WTO Investment Facilitation Framework: Four Concrete Proposals", "Multinational Enterprises and the Global Investment Regime: Toward Balancing Rights and Responsibilities”, “The WIR at 30: Contributions to National and International Policymaking", "An Inventory of Concrete Measures to Facilitate the Flow of Sustainable FDI: What? Why? How?", "Insulating a WTO Investment Facilitation Framework from ISDS", "The Case for an Advisory Centre on International Investment Law", "The Potential Value-added of a Multilateral Framework on Investment Facilitation for Development" are available at .

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