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China's foreign direct investment hits US$53bln in 2003
2004-01-14 00:00

Large foreign direct investment (FDI) contracts flowed back to China in December to enable the nation's 2003 FDI record to rise a hard-won 1.44 percent from the previous year, to reach US$53.5 billion in paid-in terms, according to the Ministry of Commerce Wednesday.

The manufacturing industry continued to be the star performer, garnering 70 percent of the total investment.

This ended the debate whether China, the world's largest FDI recipient in 2002, would see a negative growth in capital imports after it experienced two-digit falls for five straight months since July.

But December's strong revival in FDI influx put an end to the downward trend. The ministry did not specify the December data. But according to industry analysts, FDI in December reached US$6.35 billion, rising 24.8 per cent year-on-year.

"Electronics, telecom equipment, chemicals and machinery were the hottest areas in the manufacturing industry last year, and the trend is unlikely to change in 2004,'' Jin Bosheng, director of the foreign investment research department of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Co-operation, told China Daily.

He added that he believed the December surge indicates the weakening of repercussions from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak which threatened the nation's economy in the earlier months of 2003.

In a region-by-region analysis, Shanghai and the three provinces of Jiangsu, Guangdong and Shandong were the top FDI destinations last year.

Jin, who remained optimistic that FDI would not be lower than the 2002 level, predicted in September that a boom cycle would come at the turn of the year.

He said that the number has been a significant achievement, since the global capital flow dropped this year because of a gloomy world economic climate. The number was, however, lower than an internal target of US$57 billion.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), global FDI flows in 2003 remained flat, at US$653 billion, and China's share was 8 per cent of it.

Statistics from UNCTAD reveal that China, which replaced the United States as the world's largest FDI recipient in 2002 for the first time, in turn lost its title to the US.

FDI flows to the US tripled to US$86.6 billion last year.

In the meantime, a debate still continues over whether China will slow down in 2004, although Jin added that "momentum is still robust.''

The number of foreign investment contracts showed lots of money are waiting to flow into China, he said. Contracted foreign investment in 2003, an indicator of future trends, was US$115 billion, soaring 39 per cent from a year earlier, the ministry said.

"China will continue to be a hot destination for FDI, since no drastic change happens in its favourable macro-situation,'' Jin said.

He explained that China is maintaining strong economic performance, quick foreign trade growth and expanding opening areas to investors.

China is also maintaining a stable political situation and secure investment environment, whereas many other countries are troubled by fears of terrorism and other matters.

"More destinations favoured by foreign investors like the Yangzte River Delta and Pearl River Delta will be forged when foreign investors move some industries outside developed countries," he said, and predicted that FDI will hit US$70 billion this year.

Huang Yiping, an economist at Citigroup, said that previous uncertainty about whether China would revalue its currency stymied new investment.

The foreign investors who build factories in China for exporting goods back to their own countries worried whether export competitiveness would be dampened by such revaluing.

"But with the pressure fading, you will probably see pretty strong flows early next year," Huang added.

However, some economists still do not look favourably on China. Hui Tai, an economist with Standard Chartered, said FDI will slow this year because of fewer big deals.

"A lot of the big companies, such as members of the Fortune 500, have already invested in China,'' he said. "They need time to digest before they top up their investments."

A lot of new FDI will come from smaller firms seeking to cut costs and rub elbows with big customers already in China, he said.

In fact, the Ministry of Commerce, the watchdog of foreign investment, said earlier it demands more efforts to level FDI flow this year with that in 2003.

Officials said they will stage more favourable policies and further open the financing, commercial and tourism industries to foreign investors.

Foreign companies are also welcome to locate their manufacturing, outsourcing, research facilities and headquarters in China, officials said.

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