There is broad global consensus that governments do not have the firepower to fund global development alone, and need the help of the private sector.

While these talking points have become routine at gatherings and conferences, the reality on the ground is very different. According to the IMF, capital flows into developing markets actually reversed in 2018.

Advertisement

Despite the talking the talk of global development, foreign investors are reportedly still put off by the high risks and lack of hedging available in more challenging markets – particularly for longer term and badly needed investments such as large scale infrastructure.

Here offshore international financial centres (IFCs) have a critical role to play as intermediaries for development finance, according to new research from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Whereas prevailing narratives around offshore finance can revolve around capital flight and the Panama Papers, the ODI researchers show these centres actually made a sizeable contribution to development-oriented investment flows.

"There is a need for private investment as aid budgets are reducing, while achieving [onshore] reform is a multi-year process, sometimes 10 to 20 years. It would be better if onshore could achieve reforms in time, but in the meantime offshore centres can act as a bridge," said Judith Tyson, the paper’s author and a research fellow at ODI.

Investment via IFCs boosted infrastructure investment in developing countries by 15%, or some $1000bn between 2007 and 2014, according to the paper’s estimates. Other sectors benefited by an estimated $500bn.

The total of $1500bn in investment channeled via IFCs boosted these countries' GDPs by an estimated $400bn, while adding some $100bn in tax revenues, during the same period, according to the ODI research.

As for concerns that offshore financial hubs have been used as sites for below-board financial dealings, Ms Tyson said that this culture is changing for the better as more stringent reforms are put in place in top-ranked financial centres such as Mauritius and Dubai.

"The reform process is pushing up the standard for IFCs. The ones with poor standards are being left behind. Respectable investors want to do the right thing, and they also know if they put [their capital] through places such as Panama there are going to be questions,” she said.