The prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, opened  proceedings at the eighth Annual Investment Meeting following a ‘global leaders’ panel discussion on how FDI drives sustainable development.

Panelist Dimitri Kumsishvili, Georgia’s minister of economy and sustainable development, explained how Georgia has transformed itself from a business scarecrow to an FDI haven in the past 10 years. The country is currently ninth out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business index and it has the lowest levels of corruption in eastern Europe (not including the members of the EU) and central Asia, according to Transparency International’s latest ranking.

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Mr Kumsishvili explained that, to attract FDI, one needs “political will and stability, first and foremost. [Pro-business] laws should not be changed and the government must be visionary. Next is beating corruption, having ease of doing business, and economic freedom: [few] restrictions on capital repatriation or currency exchange, etc. Tax burdens should also be low.”

Panelist Yousuf Ali, the founder and managing director of Lulu Group International, said: “As an investor, I look for strong, sustainable social security in a country, and a strong economy with ease of doing business. A country I went to recently has had the same [business] laws in place since 1935; this needs to be changed. Upgrading infrastructure is also important. When the government invests in the country, that also encourages me.”

The deputy director of the World Trade Organization, Yonov Frederick Agah, said: “No issue is more important today than reviving global economic co-operation, liberalisation and growth. Trade and investment are drivers of global growth... [sustainable] development, innovation and job [generation]. Recent signs of trade tensions are therefore not only a cause, but symptom, of a global economy that has largely stopped opening and integrating in recent years.”

“However, let us not forget our successes: in 2013, in Bali [the WTO] negotiated the Trade Facilitation Agreement which, when fully implemented, will increase global trade flows by $1bn annually. [In 2015], this was followed by the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement which covers 201 products with an annual export value of $1300bn. However, progress like this is only possible when we recognise that the world economy has never been more interdependent, and that no country – even the most powerful – can solve its trade and investment challenges on its own.”

Despite the looming threat from protectionism, world merchandise exports – valued at $15,460bn in 2016 – are expected to expand this year as the global economy is likely to record a 3.9% growth in 2018, according to the WTO.