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19 February 1997

Investors from Asian developing countries are discovering Europe: foreign direct investment (FDI) flows from that region into Europe increased from an average US$100 million during 1989-1991 to an average US$860 million during 1992-1994 (see Table 1). While North America remains their main investment location beyond Asia, their activities in the European Union have gathered momentum, both in manufacturing and services (see annex for profile of the main investors). Evidence and analysis of this phenomenon is provided in a report released today by UNCTAD entitled "Sharing Asia´s Dynamism: Asian Direct Investment in the European Union"(1) (167 pages).

The share of the European Union in the total FDI stock from developing Asia reached about 5 per cent in 1995 (see Table 2 for information on selected countries). Though this is still relatively low, UNCTAD observes that this does "not reflect neglect, but rather the fact that Asian firms are just at the beginning of their entry into Europe".

Many firms of the Asian newly industrializing economies (NIEs) increasingly see need for a direct presence in the European Union in order to serve this large and rich market. Others are seeking access to advanced technology and skills, research and development programmes, the report says.

Approximately 40 per cent of FDI stock held by Asian NIEs in the European Union is located in the United Kingdom, around 30 per cent in Germany, and about 20 per cent in the Netherlands.

More recently, Asian transnational corporations (TNCs) have began investing in Central and Eastern Europe, taking advantage of privatization programmes. They find in this region a low-cost production base, and a good platform for relatively unrestricted entry in the European Union internal market. Moreover, local demand for manufactured consumer goods in Central and Eastern Europe is projected to rise strongly, providing further encouragement for them to invest in the region.

UNCTAD, which is recognized as the main source for information on global FDI flows and for related policy analysis, anticipates a continuing upsurge in FDI from developing Asia into the European Union. It reviews various measures that could be taken to increase Asian FDI in Europe, to the benefit of both investors and host countries.

NIE investors are attracted equally by manufacturing and services

Data suggest that manufacturing and services are of similar importance in the outward investment of Asian NIEs (see Table 3). From the sectoral distribution of recent FDI projects by the Asian NIEs in European countries emerges the following picture:

  • FDI in manufacturing is heavily biased towards the electronics industry, which accounted for three quarters of all manufacturing projects of the four Asian NIEs - Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan Province of China - in the European Union. Projects in textiles, clothing, leather and footwear, as well as in chemicals and the production of toys, follow by a wide margin.
  • The distribution of projects within the services sector is much less concentrated than in manufacturing. Investment in trade figures most prominently, but FDI in financial institutions was only slightly less important. In addition, Asian NIEs engaged in quite a number of projects in other services industries such as sea transport, hotels and telecommunications (see Table 4).
  • Projects in both manufacturing and services were primarily located in the United Kingdom and Germany, followed by France and the Netherlands. The same ranking of European Union host countries prevailed with regard to the most important manufacturing industry, i.e., electronics.
  • Major host countries in the European Union attracted a similar number of FDI projects from Asian NIEs in both manufacturing and services. The only exception was France, where manufacturing projects (all but one in electronics) accounted for two thirds of the total number of projects.
  • The United Kingdom hosted Asian FDI projects in all major services industries. In the services sector of Germany, the focus of investors from Asian NIEs was clearly on trade and, to a lesser extent, finance and sea transport.

Future trends

Four distinct groups of investment patterns are likely to emerge:

  • Investment from the technologically advanced NIEs, with advanced skill and research bases and large indigenous firms capable of setting up state-of-the-art facilities in complex industrial activities and undertaking global production. These investors would focus on large-scale manufacturing and trading, and originate mainly from the Republic of Korea and, to a lesser extent, from Taiwan Province of China. Over time, investments in the services sector are also likely to emerge as banks, insurance companies, construction firms and infrastructure providers develop the necessary capabilities.
  • Investment from the smaller NIEs (Singapore and Hong Kong), with capabilities in high value-added services and some manufacturing niches (advanced ones for Singapore and simpler ones for Hong Kong). Their investments in services would range from trade and finance to tourism.
  • Investment from other dynamic Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, that are developing indigenous specialized capabilities in industries like components, resource-based activities including food, wood, rubber and petrochemicals and labour-intensive activities like textiles. Investment from these countries may also develop in some service activities.
  • Investment from the economies of China and India, which have broad and diversified industrial bases but need to upgrade their technologies in several major industries. These economies may catch up in a range of industries to the level of undertaking FDI in Europe, in both labour and skill-intensive industries. However, they are unlikely to become major investors in Europe in the foreseeable future; rather, they can be expected to concentrate on other developing countries for some time to come.

Asian FDI in Europe needs to be nurtured

Asian FDI in Europe is on the rise, but it is still incipient and needs to be nurtured, the report says. It is Asian firms that must spearhead any drive to increase FDI in Europe. However, most Asian firms have little or no experience with investing in Europe. Governments have a role to play.

A review of recent changes in legislation and national policies on outward FDI in developing Asia shows a clear trend towards further liberalization. UNCTAD anticipates that a reversal of this trend is unlikely as Asian governments now increasingly see outward FDI as a strategic option necessary to establish a presence in foreign markets, access foreign resources and increase the competitiveness of national firms. This liberalization takes into account national development objectives and various constraints. In this respect, the UNCTAD report suggests procedures and criteria that can be used by Asian governments for approving outward FDI in situations characterized by balance-of-payments constraints.

Beyond liberalization, a number of Asian governments have also started promoting outward investment through pragmatic measures in the areas of education, training and orientation programmes; the provision of various information services; the promotion of partnerships and contacts; and the rendering of financial assistance.

Many countries have set up government/private sector agencies and associations aimed at encouraging outward FDI. The latest example is the establishment of the Thailand Overseas Investment Promotion Board in 1996, chaired by the Prime Minister.

A Europe-Invest Programme?

UNCTAD sees great potential for joint action by Asian countries on outward FDI, notwithstanding the diversity of their economies. First, Asian governments could benefit from an exchange of national experiences with pragmatic measures for promoting outward FDI.

But they could go a step further and set-up a "Europe-Invest Programme" as an umbrella for their activities, UNCTAD suggests. It could be established by interested countries, with offices in the participating countries. The brief of each national Europe-Invest office could differ, depending on circumstances and needs; and each could link back to national institutions, including export-import banks and other agencies involved in outward investment.

For Asian economies such as Japan and the Republic of Korea, which already possess well-developed outward promotion policies and institutions, a Europe-Invest Agency might act mainly as a gateway, specifically channelling Europe-related corporate requests to the appropriate institutions, making firms aware of the opportunities available, helping promotion institutions adapt their policies so that they can target European countries more effectively, and coordinating Europe-related activities domestically and with Asian partners. On the other hand, for countries newly establishing, or restructuring, their outward FDI support institutions, a Europe-Invest Agency could take on the full range of functions and activities of such an agency. This would effectively make them "one-stop shops".

A Europe-Invest Programme would complement the Asia-Invest Programme, already put in place by the European Commission. A common roof would help to coordinate the two programmes, reduce duplication and enhance synergies. Such an approach could build on existing successful measures and instruments and apply them in either direction.

In partnership with EU authorities

There is also a role to play for public authorities in the European Union. As most laws, regulations and administrative procedures governing inward investment are established by the Union´s individual governments, the framework facing a foreign investor is sometimes complex. In spite of some progress in this area, there is scope for further harmonization. And perhaps a more comprehensive European Union-wide treatment of FDI could be considered as well, the report says. It argues that, from the viewpoint of Asian investors, such an approach would be beneficial because it would be comprehensive, increase transparency and reduce transaction costs.

This publication, undertaken at the request and with the financial support of the Government of Thailand, complements a study published jointly by the UNCTAD secretariat and the European Commission last year on direct investment of the European Union in Asia (see TAD/INF/2643 dated 19 March 1996). Both reports were prepared within the context of a working group on investment in the ASEM(2) (Asia-Europe Meeting) forum that was established at its first summit meeting in Bangkok in March 1996, bringing together governments and the private sector on investment issues. This working group met in Bangkok on 7-9 July and in Paris on 14 October 1996.


1. Sharing Asia´s Dynamism: Asian Direct Investment in the European Union (Sales No. E.97.II.D.1) may be obtained at the price of US$42, from the United Nations Sales and Marketing Section, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, F: +41 22 917 0027, E: unpubli@unog.ch or United Nations Publications, Sales Section, Room DC2-0853, United Nations Secretariat, New York, N.Y. 10017, U.S.A., T: +1 212 963 8302 or +1 800 253 9646, F: +1 212 963 3489, E: publications@un.org, Internet home page.

2. The ASEM countries include Brunei Darussalam, China, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam in Asia and all European Union member states.

For more information, please contact:
Chief, Karl P. Sauvant
International Investment, Transnationals and Technology Branch
Division on Investment, Technology and Enterprise Development, UNCTAD
T: +41 22 917 5707
F: +41 22 907 0194
E: karl.sauvant@unctad.org
Press Officer of UNCTAD, Carine Richard-Van Maele
T: +41 22 917 5816/28
F: +41 22 907 0043
E: press@unctad.org.


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