ECLAC: Caribbean economies record massive jump in foreign investment

Posted by Investt

invest in TrinidadThe Caribbean sub-region has seen a significant increase of some 39 percent in total foreign direct investment (FDI) for 2012: US$8 billion of the “new record high” of $173.361 billion for all of Latin America and the Caribbean, says the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The regional total for LatAm and the Caribbean for 2012 is a 6.7 percent increase from the US$165.815 billion in 2011, and is particularly impressive given that global FDI fell 13 percent to US$1.3 trillion last year.

According to ECLAC’s report on regional foreign direct investment released this week, 2012 represents the Caribbean sub-region’s second best foreign investment showing for the period 2000 to 2012 and the third year in a row to see an increase in FDI inflows.

During this decade, the Caribbean reached a record FDI high in 2008, attracting over US$9 billion in investment before growth was stymied by the global economic downturn.

The recent uptick in Caribbean foreign direct investment is particularly encouraging since much of the Caribbean is still negatively affected by the global economic downturn.

Globally, the US is still the largest recipient of FDI, but this trend shows that emerging markets in the Caribbean are successfully exploiting their resources in order to grow more stable economies.

The report noted that natural resources and service industries are the Caribbean’s investment cash cows; mining industries in countries like Guyana and the Dominican Republic saw hefty investment inflows.

In fact, according to the report, the Dominican Republic was “the largest FDI recipient in the Caribbean” because of significant increases in FDI in its utilities, manufacturing and mining sectors. The DR’s straightforward investment policies may also have contributed to this growth.

Guyana’s gold and bauxite mining accounted for most of its 19 percent foreign direct investment growth from 2011 to 2012, the report said.

The report singled out agriculture and agro-industry as an important investment opportunity in the region, due to global food concerns and the fact that regional public sector spending in these industries has trended down since 1975.

The region is generally working below its potential to feed itself, in spite of its important agricultural land resources.

For example, Trinidad and Tobago’s agro-industry has identified its fine flavour cocoa as one of the country’s planned agricultural land uses. Most of Belize’s FDI comes from its agro-industry focus on sugar cane, and it earned the highest FDI growth in the Caribbean in 2012 (95 percent).

Jamaica earned the second highest foreign direct investment growth in the Caribbean, through mining and services like tourism and telecommunications. Jamaica’s telecoms sector is now dominated by Digicel, and Bahamas-based Columbus Communications. Together, they have cut into Cable & Wireless’ market share.

Trinidad and Tobago had the third highest growth; the country grew FDI by some 70 percent to US$2.336 billion in the first three quarters of 2012; 85 percent of total investment was in oil and gas.

Services made up 44 percent of foreign direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean, with investors pursuing attractive business opportunities in the telecom, commerce and financial sectors, ECLAC explained.

For example, in 2012 New India Assurance completed construction of its new regional headquarters in Trinidad, an investment of approximately US$40 million.

The financial sector is the second largest in the T&T economy, accounting for 11 to 12 percent of GDP and the government has signaled its intention to grow this sector with the establishment of a bespoke agency, the Trinidad and Tobago International Financial Centre.

Maritime is also primed to become a major opportunity in Trinidad and Tobago, with some public sector investment. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment has prioritised amendments in maritime legislation and has been systematically reforming policy to make maritime business easier for investors.

Last year, Oldendorff Carriers, a global leader in drybulk shipping, built a US$45 million transshipment hub in T&T. The hub facilitates the shipment of iron ore from Brazil to Asian and Middle Eastern markets.

Tourism-based Caribbean economies like the Bahamas struggled, and the report predicted that Barbados’ results might be similar, although both countries, like Trinidad and Tobago, have not submitted data for all of 2012.

Haiti's slow disaster recovery and poor competitiveness may contribute for its economic decline by -1 percent in 2012. But it has attracted minor FDI in tourism and manufacturing because of low wages and its close proximity to the US.

Although this FDI growth is welcome because of the boost it gives Caribbean and Latin American economies, and reinvestment of income is growing, regional economies may need to work on ensuring that FDI means that there are technology and knowledge investments as well.

Critical knowledge transfer from investing companies to the local workforce is not measured and may be too low, the report hinted.

"In the vast majority of the countries there is no clear indication that FDI is making a relevant contribution to the creation of new sectors or high technology content activities," ECLAC said.

Still, the region is making money for its investors. Transnational companies’ FDI income from Latin America and the Caribbean swelled from just over US$20 billion in 2002 to more than US$113 billion in 2011.

And reinvested earnings account for a growing proportion of Latin America and the Caribbean’s FDI (over intra-company loans and capital contributions) from around 10 percent in 2001 to around 40 percent in 2012, which means investors are securing their stock for the long haul.

Trinidad and Tobago is the Caribbean’s only exporter of oil, gas and downstream products, but regional prospects in oil production in countries like Guyana may cause a bigger boost in regional foreign direct investment in coming years, the report said.

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