Major economies from the Middle East and north Africa (MENA) region are expected to carry the strongest investment momentum into 2023, according to fDi’s inaugural FDI Standouts Watchlist 2023.
The study, which assesses the macroeconomic and foreign direct investment (FDI) trajectory of the world’s top 50 FDI destinations using data from the IMF and foreign investment monitor fDi Markets, singles out those countries that are bucking the trend as the global economy edges closer to a possible recession in 2023.
Qatar leads the top 10, followed by India and Morocco. Another four MENA countries feature in the top 10: Oman (fourth), Saudi Arabia (sixth), Egypt (seventh) and the UAE (tenth). Europe is also represented in the top 10, with Ireland and Greece in fifth and ninth respectively. Singapore is in eighth position, and is the only south-east Asian country among the 10 best performers.
First-placed Qatar finds itself in the spotlight of the Fifa World Cup at a time when the local economy has plenty of wind in its sails. The energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine and Europe’s subsequent pivot away from Russian gas has only strengthened the country’s role as one of the world’s largest exporters of liquified natural gas (LNG), a title it shares with Australia.
In order to make the most of the current demand for alternatives to Russian gas, Qatar has set in motion a gigantic, FDI-fuelled expansion of its LNG production and exporting capacity.
The country’s state energy company, Qatar Energy, has teamed up with the likes of Shell, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Eni and TotalEnergies to carry out the North Field Expansion project, which will add more than 48 million tonnes per year (MTPA) to the world’s LNG supplies and raise Qatar’s LNG production capacity to 126 MTPA. Total investment is estimated at about $50bn.
Yet the country’s recent FDI successes go beyond oil and gas extraction. In 2022, most of the FDI projects it attracted came from companies in business and financial services, as well as from ICT companies.
Overall, the country has achieved a 70% annual growth in FDI projects between 2019 and 2022, fDi Markets figures show, and its economy is now expected to grow by 2.4% in 2023, while inflation should not exceed 3.3%, according to IMF estimates.
It is a different story for second-placed India. The country of 1.4 billion people is continuing its tremendous economic progression. The IMF expects India to grow by 6.1% in 2023, from 6.8% 2022, while keeping inflation relatively under control – considering the circumstances – at 5.1%, from 6.9% in 2022.
Foreign investment has played a major role in India’s recent growth story. The country is en route to wrap up one of its best years, if not the best year of all, on record. Foreign investors announced a total of 628 projects worth about $60bn between January and October, according to fDi Markets data, which is already the second-best annual performance since the data series started in 2003, with two months of data from November and December yet to come through.
Today, India is by far the world’s biggest recipient of FDI into research and development (R&D) activities. Foreign investors have announced 188 projects worth $11.7bn in the sector in 2022 alone, a far cry from any others (the US follows at a distance with 90 R&D projects worth $2.5bn in 2022). On top of that, the country has also racked up major FDI inflows across the business and services sectors, while a few big-ticket projects, particularly in the production of semiconductors, have shored up figures for FDI into manufacturing.
Third-placed Morocco is carrying strong investment momentum into 2023 thanks to a solid macroeconomic cycle, with the IMF putting 2023 gross domestic product growth at 3.1% and inflation at 4.1%, and the interest that its renewable energy potential is stirring among investors. In particular, several foreign investors are looking to combine Morocco’s solar and wind potential to produce green hydrogen. One of them is Luxembourg-based Eren, which has put together a green hydrogen project in the Guelmim-Oued Noun region, and is potentially able to mobilise more than $10bn.
At the same time, the country remains the largest recipient of manufacturing FDI in the MENA region after Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
This article first appeared in the December 2022/January 2023 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.