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Changes and Implications of FDI Policies in Major Developed Countries Foreign direct investment, Overseas Direct Investment

Author Hyung-Gon Jeong and Ara Lee Series 22-02 Language Korean Date 2022.07.29

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Due to COVID-19, global FDI has decreased rapidly, and the trade environment to attract foreign investment is rapidly changing. Amid the decreasing inflow of FDI worldwide, the trend of corporate tax cuts continues as competition among major countries to attract foreign investment intensifies. The global average corporate tax in 2000 was 28.3%, but fell to 20% in 2021. The OECD average fell from 32.3% in 2000 to 22.9% in 2021. Along with the trend of corporate tax cuts to attract investment, there is also a movement to set the so-called global minimum corporate tax rate, aiming to prevent excessive corporate tax cuts. On July 1, 2021, following negotiations at the OECD, 130 countries which account for 90% of the world’s GDP agreed to apply the global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% from 2023. Subject to the application are multinational companies with total annual sales of EUR 750 million or more. In recent years, active reshoring policies to protect domestic industries and create jobs in developed countries have made it more difficult to attract FDI to Korea.

On his fifth day in office, President Biden announced Executive Order 14005, which prioritizes the federal government’s financial support and procurement, laying the legal foundation for the revival of U.S. manufacturing and job creation through the “Made in America” and “Buy American” initiatives. In addition, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), which legislated federal support for domestic infrastructure construction, passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 117th Congress.

Advanced countries, including the United States, are pursuing active industrial policies and attracting foreign investment to build their own supply chains, which are also expected to pose difficulties in attracting domestic investment. Developed countries are providing investment support for the purpose of stabilizing the supply of semiconductors and integrating into the GVCs of key materials for the fourth industrial revolution. The U.S. Innovative Competition Act (USICA), which passed the U.S. Senate, established a semiconductor support program centered on the Department of Commerce, which invests USD 52 billion for the development of the U.S. semiconductor industry. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry also decided to provide 19 billion yen (KRW 200 billion) worth of subsidies to joint R&D between Taiwan’s TSMC and Japanese companies in 2021 to enhance semiconductor competitiveness and strengthen GVC linkage.

Developed countries are actively attracting foreign investment to reshape their own supply chains, and are also expanding restrictions on foreign investment for the purpose of securing technological supremacy and protecting national security. Investment regulations introduced in 52 countries in 2020 increased by 43% compared to 2019, the highest level since 2003, and most of them have been introduced for national security purposes.

This report was designed in accordance with the need to reorganize the domestic foreign investment attraction system according to the aforementioned changes in the global FDI environment. In the case of advanced countries, policies on attracting foreign investment are being promoted more actively, and Korea lies in a disadvantageous environment to attract foreign investment, such as withdrawing tax breaks for foreign investment. This is because foreign investment is still effective in technology transfer, technology development and employment promotion, and presents a good opportunity and means to promote the incorporation of domestic companies into GVC. 

In addition, countries around the world are strengthening regulations on foreign investment in terms of security, technology, and intellectual rights protection, and it is necessary to review our current foreign investment policy in terms of national security and domestic industry protection through case analysis of advanced countries. Also, with the inauguration of a new administration in Korea in 2022, it is necessary to prepare a timely reform (draft) of the foreign investment attraction support system in line with the changing FDI environment and investment promotion policies for the next five years. And at the same time, the report can provide very useful information on overseas investment environments to Korean companies planning to expand overseas.

The following summarizes the policies to attract foreign investment in major developed countries by dividing them into foreign investment regulatory policies to provide investment attraction incentives and those to protect high-tech sectors, and summarizes the implications for Korea’s foreign investment attraction policy.

First, in the case of Hong Kong and Singapore, various policies have been promoted to establish business hubs for specific industries while providing various incentives to attract foreign investment. From the perspective of Koreans, these policies are the best examples and are the targets we should benchmark. One of the characteristics of the foreign investment attraction systems in Hong Kong and Singapore is that among the various support systems, cash grants are very diverse. Hong Kong and Singapore operate a tax system that does not discriminate between domestic and foreign companies. In particular, Hong Kong exempts tax on income from the aviation and shipping industries as a way to support business hubs. In addition, Hong Kong and Singapore have simple tax systems. In the case of Hong Kong, there are only business income tax, property tax, and salary income tax, sales tax, capital gains tax, dividend income tax, value-added tax, withholding tax, and inheritance tax. As a free trade port, Hong Kong does not impose tariffs on imports and exports.

Hong Kong also runs a very large cash grant program. It operates a green and sustainable growth subsidy system, an innovation and technology fund, an incentive organized by Cyberport, and a smart transportation fund, and each program operates a wide variety of systems. In Korea, although a cash grant program has been introduced, there are limitations in operation, and it is not widely used like Hong Kong and Singapore. Hong Kong’s location supports companies by creating specialized complexes, Hong Kong Science & Technology Park being the most representative example. 

Due to the nature of the city, Hong Kong cannot provide industrial complexes as locations, and mainly supports startups specialized in high-tech technologies in building locations. In addition, acceleration programs simultaneously incorporate space support programs. In the case of Korea, various incubation programs or systems are currently being created to support startups. However, it is necessary to further revitalize the location support system, which provides space to startups along with comprehensive support programs.

In the case of Singapore, the most representative investment incentive is the tax reduction system. Singapore’s tax reduction system is widely operated. Various incentives including the general corporate tax reduction are provided to establish leading industries and intellectual property that increases added value. Like Hong Kong, it operates systems such as aircraft rental and shipping incentives to strengthen its function as a free city. This is interpreted as a system to strengthen Singapore’s function as a logistics hub and further strengthen its current competitiveness. In addition, in order to strengthen its function as a financial hub and intermediary trade center, it operates various specialized support programs for corporate tax reduction and exemption for companies in this industry.

Singapore’s cash grants are well known for their scale and anonymity. The Energy Efficiency Enhancement Fund is an official cash aid program. In addition, cash is also provided for the repair and expansion of buildings. Various types of programs are operated to support startups, and these programs are also essentially cash support programs. However, most of the cash support in Singapore is paid only if the company spends first, and is supported legally and in accordance with the support rules through evidentiary documents for subsequent expenditures. Other support programs include granting permanent residency to those who have invested in Singapore with certain conditions, and guaranteeing visas to those who have certain qualifications, so that necessary technicians and experts can work in Singapore.

As seen above, the policies to attract foreign investment in Hong Kong and Singapore literally institutionalized various investment incentives to attract foreign investment. On the other hand, the U.S., Japan, and the UK are actively attracting foreign investment in terms of industrial policy to stabilize the supply chain, upgrade the value chain, and enhance the competitiveness of their industries, while strengthening regulations on attracting foreign investment to protect their high-tech industries. Although there are some differences in foreign investment concentration industries in each country, foreign direct investment is intended to be used as a way to foster various high-tech and future industries such as AI, big data, and future mobility, along with areas that are spread by digital transformation (DX). Strategic industries to be fostered are selected and these are intended to attract technologies and capital that the country lacks by attracting foreign investment. In the case of Singapore, companies with advanced science and technology or start-up support programs are promoted, and the UK also implements policies to attract patent-holding companies.

Meanwhile, advanced countries such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom are using foreign investment attraction as a policy tool to support underdeveloped regions in terms of balanced regional development. In the case of the UK, enterprise zones are operated in areas such as England, Wales, and Scotland, and as of 2022, a total of 73 enterprise zones have been designated to actively attract investment in promising industries by individual regions.

In the case of the United States, it is very active and open to foreign investment, and there are basically no restrictions on the type of investment. The foreign investment attraction policy operates various systems in each state to attract foreign investment at the state level rather than the federal government. The Trump administration pushed for a pro-business policy through corporate tax cuts, which seems to have had a positive effect on attracting foreign investment. In the United States, tax cuts are also the most prioritized incentives to attract foreign investment. Various cash support systems are also being used very actively for industrial innovation. Active support is provided for technology transfer to SMEs, innovation partnerships, early engineering research, and industry-academic cooperation research. Various programs to provide office locations are mainly used, such as in the special zone systems in Japan and other developed countries. Free trade areas and special opportunity zones are in operation, as well as various loan programs.

In the case of Japan, policies to attract foreign investment in consideration of the region are operated along with a wide variety of support policies. Foreign investment is used as a means to revitalize the local economy, and to this end, the central government not only offers various subsidies but also guarantees various preferential measures specialized for foreign companies at the local government level. Japan also actively uses its tax system to attract foreign investment, and corporate tax is also being lowered. Various tax benefits are granted to foreign corporations. Depending on the type of corporation, corporate tax is applied differently, and it is used in various ways, such as open innovation, local base strengthening tax system for local revitalization, R&D tax system, tax system for securing talent and expanding income of SMEs, and DX investment promotion tax system. Japan has a much more diverse and wider scope in the use of corporate tax than Korea. Japan also operates various cash grant programs. Most importantly, cash grants are used first for domestic investment to stabilize supply chains. Cash grants are also used in areas that are essential for fostering future industries, such as green innovation. Japan’s location support system is also operated in the form of a special zone like the United States. These special zones are operated for various purposes such as a special structural reform zone, comprehensive special zone, special national strategic zone, special revival zone, and a startup eco-city hub city.

The UK is also using various methods to attract foreign investment to create jobs and expand domestic investment. First, the tax was lowered slightly, and from 2023, corporate tax will be applied in three stages. In terms of corporate tax reduction and exemption, corporate tax rate benefits vary depending on the type of reduction program. Venture capital, corporate investment, and early corporate investment are representative examples, but patent boxes are also well-known instruments, especially for corporate investments. This is a system to encourage the registration of intellectual property in the UK and promote the commercialization of patents, with the profits generated by these patents becoming eligible for corporate tax reduction or exemption. The UK is also actively using cash grants for foreign investment, most of these being given to companies that contribute to the local economy. There are systems in place to support office locations in special zones, which also incorporate enterprise zones. Creative industrial clusters and free trade ports are also examples of such location support systems.

One of the notable phenomena in the foreign investment attraction policies of developed countries discussed above is to increase financial support along with support for venture investment. The support system for angel businesses or venture investment is being strengthened so that innovative technologies and ideas can grow into industries in the country.

The following summarizes the lessons learned from the previous cases of advanced countries. Korea still has a low proportion of foreign investment compared to the size of its economy. ① Korea lacks exceptional incentive means to attract large-scale foreign investment, an issue which needs to be addressed. In the case of Singapore, as previously discussed, pioneer status can be granted, suggesting unconventional conditions such as tax exemption for up to 15 years. ② Another lesson that can be learned from the case of advanced countries is that these countries are using cash grants very actively. However, in the case of Korea, it is necessary to evaluate the economic ripple effect that can be obtained from foreign investment in cash grants, and seek methods to support it accordingly. In particular, in the case of the United Kingdom and the United States, incentives are comprehensively supported by evaluating the economic backwardness of the location. In our case, corporate support is uniformly divided into metropolitan areas and non-metropolitan areas, but in the case of the UK, various elements such as the local unemployment rate, GRDP, financial independence, industrial structure, and infrastructure are comprehensively considered when evaluating regional economic backwardness.

③ One of the characteristics of the case of advanced countries is that rent reduction systems are used. In the case of Japan, locational support is provided for various types of special zones, and other countries surveyed in this study also use industrial complex support systems. In our case, the rent reduction or exemption under the Foreign Investment Promotion Act is 1% of the land price (Article 19, Paragraph 4 of the Enforcement Decree of the Foreign Investment Act), which is significantly lower than the 5% rent applied to ordinary industrial complexes. In particular, only foreign investments exceeding $1 million which involve high-tech projects are eligible for 100% rent reduction, which greatly reduces efficiency in terms of the operation of incentives. It would be desirable to switch to a system where the reduced rent is returned in the form of reinvestment.

④ It is necessary to supplement the current issuance-type cash support system by introducing a loan-type cash support system and a fund-type cash support system like the UK and Japan. Since the cash support limit can be supported up to 30% of the total investment in the case of the current grant type, it is necessary to expand it to a higher 50% level for the loan type. As in the cases of Japan and the United Kingdom, it is necessary to benchmark loan-type cash support and cash support through fund creation. In particular, along with the loan-type cash support system, a method of combining and operating a part of investment funds using domestic private financial institutions can also increase the effectiveness of cash support.

⑤ Finally, it is necessary to refer to various cash support measures under names such as the Investment Effect Adjustment Fund or the “000 Adjustment Fund,” as the term “cash grant” gives the impression of giving to investors for free. Obviously, as mentioned earlier, it is necessary to make sure that this is not a means of inducing preferential treatment or tax obligations because cash support is given depending on the degree of economic ripple effect. Unlike tax cuts, cash support programs are a means of generating financial losses from the government, meaning they require delicate operation.

Another important trend in attracting foreign investment in developed countries is regulation on foreign investment. Most of the sanctions on foreign investment are imposed on the grounds of national security, but this is to prevent the outflow of technology such as high-tech industries from the host country. To this end, various means and systems are being created to strengthen the screening function for foreign investment and to prevent investment in certain cases. The United States basically had no restrictions on foreign investment, but recently strengthened foreign investment regulations through individual laws or state laws. The U.S. Foreign Exchange Regulation Act extends to all cases in which a company has the authority to determine major matters and to cases where the U.S. party does not have corporate control in acquisition of minority shares, acquisition of foreign companies in the U.S. and joint ventures. In addition, it imposes a high level of monitoring and obligation to report foreign investments for “all transactions related to core industries including important technologies and materials” with countries of special interest, such as China, but exempts companies that receive potential safe harbor letters.

For national security, Japan is tightening regulations on foreign investment by strengthening regulations on foreign investment in designated industries (155 companies) and lowering the standard for pre-report ownership from 10% to 1%. Japan classifies three types of licenses for foreign investors and differentiates the criteria for reporting obligations according to the type of license. Pre-reporting industries and reporting conditions are being strengthened, but reporting exemptions are also being classified into comprehensive exemption and general exemption, according to the type of investor.

The UK will introduce a mandatory reporting system in 17 high-tech industries with security risks and implement it from April 1, 2022. Acquisitions subject to report fall under the scope of civil and criminal penalties and fines if acquired without reporting, and even acquisitions not subject to report can be reviewed for up to five years after the acquisition.

Since current Korean law has a weak legal basis for screening national security risks, it is necessary to supplement the foreign investment screening system from the perspective of economic security. New technologies, core infrastructure, sensitive personal information, and security screening targets need to be expanded from the perspective of stabilizing the supply chain, and countermeasures for pre-reporting, follow-up management, and reinvestment of private equity funds under the Foreign Investment Promotion Act need to be supplemented. Foreign investment in listed companies in Korea needs to be classified into companies subject to pre-examination and non-examination, and it is necessary to strengthen the evaluation criteria for economic and industrial impact assessment that will occur in the future, such as domestic market structure, market dominance, and technology and intellectual property level. It is necessary to strengthen the requirements for submitting information and data necessary for the examination of foreign investment, and to strengthen functions so that an effective security examination can be conducted by enabling integrated management and ex officio investigation. In addition, through continuous monitoring of foreign investment, preemptive responses from state-run banks and others are necessary even before problems occur, and the functions of the foreign investment committee need to be expanded and strengthened as in the case of advanced countries.

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