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  February 3rd, 2015 | Written by

China Overtakes the U.S. in Global Foreign Direct Investment

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For almost too many years to count, the U.S. has been the world’s leading magnet for foreign direct investment (FDI), serving as its primary hive of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.

Until now.

According to the 2014 figures released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in its latest report on global FDI, China has moved into the No. 1 slot, supplanting the U.S. as the net flow of U.S.-bound investment fell by approximately two-thirds last year.

The single business deal seen as being largely responsible for the nosedive is that between U.S.-based Verizon Communications and its British partner Vodafone, which included a ‘share buyback’ that caused more than $130 billion in foreign investment to exit the U.S.

Last year, China attracted $127.6 billion in FDI compared with only $86 billion for the U.S.—a sharp decline from the $230.8 billion recorded in 2013. China’s new foreign-investment act is expected to make the country even more attractive to foreign investors. Beijing recently released the details of the new act. Once passed, it will allow foreign investors to enjoy relaxed rules for screening their investment applications filed with Chinese authorities.

India was one of the booming emerging markets favored by foreign investors, says the UNCTAD report. In 2014, India attracted $35 billion in FDI, a 13 percent increase from a year earlier. India’s investment picture, as well as that of the U.S., could brighten significantly as both countries are on the verge of reaching a bilateral tax agreement that would significantly smooth the path for bilateral FDI. The agreement reportedly targets the issue of transfer pricing, or the value at which multinational companies trade products or services between their units across borders. Specific details of the agreement are still being worked out, but sources say it could be finalized within the next few weeks.

Specifically called out in the report for its shaky investment environment was Russia, which saw its level of FDI plunge to only $19 billion last year, a staggering 70-percent free fall from the previous year when its investment surge was fueled almost exclusively by several deals in its oil sector.

Overall, global FDI in 2014 compared to the previous year fell by 8 percent to $1.3 trillion, the second-lowest level since 2008, reflecting what UNCTAD says is a direct result of a fragile global economy underscored by sputtering consumer demand, policy uncertainty, currency volatility and widespread geopolitical risks.