Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to share with you a new Special Issue of the Global Investment Trends Monitor – with a theme connected to UNCTAD’s ongoing eCommerce Week. The World Investment Report 2017 included the first ranking of the top 100 digital MNEs and investigated the effect of digitalization on global investment patterns. This Special Issue of the Global Investment Trends Monitor presents an update of the ranking and of the investment footprint of digital MNEs.

Digital MNEs are growing at breakneck speed and transforming international trade and investment.  Their international production footprint, which was already expanding, grew even faster during the pandemic. UNCTAD’s new ranking of the top 100 digital MNEs shows that total sales of the top 100 were 160% higher in 2021 than in 2016, an average increase of 21% per year. Net income increased by 23% per year with a significant growth spike of +60% between 2020 and 2021. This compares with an essentially flat trend for the traditional top 100 MNEs, excluding those in the technology sector.

The growing relevance of digital MNEs in international production generates both challenges and opportunities for developing countries. On the one hand, FDI by digital MNEs often brings relatively few physical assets and employment. On the other, it can stimulate the development of all-important digital (hard and soft) infrastructure and e-commerce opportunities for local firms.

The update in this Special Monitor is timely because (i) a 5-year time span is sufficient to look at evolutionary trends, (ii) the period includes the COVID-19 pandemic, which has provided a huge boost to digital activities, and (iii) ongoing international tax reforms and the latest legislative developments in the European Union make it interesting to assess which firms and activities will be most affected.

Further insights on the international investment activities of the MNEs in the digital top 100 will be included in the World Investment Report 2022, scheduled for publication in June.

Best regards,

James X. Zhan
Director, Investment and Enterprise
Lead, World Investment Report
United Nations Conference on Trade & Development
Palais des Nations, Geneva


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