What Is Foreign Direct Investment? - Definition, Advantages & Disadvantages

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  • 0:01 Definition of Foreign…
  • 0:53 Advantages of FDI
  • 4:39 Disadvantages of FDI
  • 6:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Expert Contributor
Steven Scalia

Steven completed a Graduate Degree is Chartered Accountancy at Concordia University. He has performed as Teacher's Assistant and Assistant Lecturer in University.

Foreign direct investment has been a controversial issue in international economics. In this lesson, you'll learn about it, including some of its advantages and disadvantages. A short quiz follows the lesson.

Definition of Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is an investment in a business by an investor from another country for which the foreign investor has control over the company purchased. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines control as owning 10% or more of the business. Businesses that make foreign direct investments are often called multinational corporations (MNCs) or multinational enterprises (MNEs). An MNE may make a direct investment by creating a new foreign enterprise, which is called a greenfield investment, or by the acquisition of a foreign firm, either called an acquisition or brownfield investment.

Advantages of FDI

In the context of foreign direct investment, advantages and disadvantages are often a matter of perspective. An FDI may provide some great advantages for the MNE but not for the foreign country where the investment is made. On the other hand, sometimes the deal can work out better for the foreign country depending upon how the investment pans out. Ideally, there should be numerous advantages for both the MNE and the foreign country, which is often a developing country. We'll examine the advantages and disadvantages from both perspectives, starting with the advantages for multinational enterprises (MNEs).

  • Access to markets: FDI can be an effective way for you to enter into a foreign market. Some countries may extremely limit foreign company access to their domestic markets. Acquiring or starting a business in the market is a means for you to gain access.
  • Access to resources: FDI is also an effective way for you to acquire important natural resources, such as precious metals and fossil fuels. Oil companies, for example, often make tremendous FDIs to develop oil fields.
  • Reduces cost of production: FDI is a means for you to reduce your cost of production if the labor market is cheaper and the regulations are less restrictive in the target foreign market. For example, it's a well-known fact that the shoe and clothing industries have been able to drastically reduce their costs of production by moving operations to developing countries.

FDI also offers some advantages for foreign countries. For starters, FDI offers a source of external capital and increased revenue. It can be a tremendous source of external capital for a developing country, which can lead to economic development.

For example, if a large factory is constructed in a small developing country, the country will typically have to utilize at least some local labor, equipment, and materials to construct it. This will result in new jobs and foreign money being pumped into the economy. Once the factory is constructed, the factory will have to hire local employees and will probably utilize at least some local materials and services. This will create further jobs and maybe even some new businesses. These new jobs mean that locals have more money to spend, thereby creating even more jobs.

Additionally, tax revenue is generated from the products and activities of the factory, taxes imposed on factory employee income and purchases, and taxes on the income and purchases now possible because of the added economic activity created by the factory. Developing governments can use this capital infusion and revenue from economic growth to create and improve its physical and economic infrastructure such as building roads, communication systems, educational institutions, and subsidizing the creation of new domestic industries.

Another advantage is the development of new industries. Remember that an MNE doesn't necessarily own all of the foreign entity. Sometimes a local firm can develop a strategic alliance with a foreign investor to help develop a new industry in the developing country. The developing country gets to establish a new industry and market, and the MNE gets access to a new market through its partnership with the local firm.

Finally, learning is an indirect advantage for foreign countries. FDI exposes national and local governments, local businesses, and citizens to new business practices, management techniques, economic concepts, and technology that will help them develop local businesses and industries.

Disadvantages to MNEs

Of course, there can also be some drawbacks for foreign direct investment. We'll start with the disadvantages for multinational enterprises (MNEs).

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Additional Activities

Foreign Direct Investment - a Business Case:

The business case below is designed for you to apply your knowledge on the topic of Foreign Direct Investment to a real-world context.


You are the chief economic policy adviser to Exxon's African operations. You have received a call from the Zimbabwe government offering its cooperation in setting up a Foreign Direct Investment in its economy. Economic turmoil in Zimbabwe's recent history has resulted in a large currency devaluation, and an economic crisis, which the government argues is a "great opportunity" for a company like Exxon's to invest in the country.

You take the following notes during your conversation with the official from Zimbabwe:

  • The currency devaluation and high unemployment rate means that the cost of local labor is 50% less than the African average.
  • The economic downturn has been accompanied by political unrest with citizens claiming that elections have been rigged.
  • The government is willing to waive its gasoline and petroleum tax on any oil products sold to Zimbabwe consumers.
  • Although the World Bank stated that Zimbabwe's recovery timeline from its economic downturn is highly uncertain, the official states that the economy is already improving.
  • The government is willing to grant rapid access to necessary drilling permits for oil fields that have proven reserves.


Write a short-format essay (minimum 100 words) destined to the President of Exxon explaining the pros and cons to the Foreign Direct Investment proposed by the Zimbabwe government. In addition, do you think Exxon's agreement with the government would have a positive or negative impact on Zimbabwe's political conditions? Explain.

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