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Foreign direct investment: What it means for investors and the country?

What is your opinion on foreign investments? Do you find it intimidating? Well, it is not very complex. Explore foreign markets through Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), which gives you access to fresh markets, innovative technologies, and abundant resources along with money.  

Understanding FDI: Definition and components

The meaning of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as the name suggests, refers to an individual or entity from one country making a significant investment in an enterprise located in a foreign country. Beyond just financial involvement, FDI represents a long-standing partnership between the investor and the foreign enterprise. 

Typically, an equity stake of 10% or more signifies a benchmark indicating substantial influence over the entity’s assets.

Major differences between FDI from FPI

Both Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) channel foreign capital into a country, yet they differ in intent and approach. 

While FDI signifies a long-term investment in a foreign entity with an objective of partnership or controlling power, FPI refers to investing in financial assets like stocks and bonds for quick gains.

Example of FDI: Walmart investing in Flipkart.
Example of FPI: An American investor buying 100 shares of Reliance Industries.

Understanding the entry routes of Foreign Investments in India 

Automatic route: Allows investors to directly invest without seeking permission from the Reserve Bank of India or the Government of India.

Government Route: Requires investors to gain prior approval from the India Government before making investments.

Exploring international expansion strategies: Types of FDI

Horizontal FDI: Capturing new markets and technologies

This is where a company replicates its business and operations to open a new branch in a foreign country. The objective of this is to increase the customer base and get access to new resources.

Example: American fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut opening a branch in India.

Vertical FDI: Investing along the production chain

This is where companies diversify their operations in different countries. So, each branch handles a different function in the production cycle. 

Example: Backward vertical: A car manufacturer from Germany might set up a tire production plant in Thailand because of the availability of natural rubber. 

Forward vertical: The same manufacturer might also set up a sales and distribution centre in Brazil, to directly access the South American market.

Conglomerate FDI: Diversification beyond expertise

This is an FDI that involves investing in a new business area altogether. The idea is to diversify and enter unexplored territories.

Example: An American tech company invests in a clothing brand in India.

Top Investor Countries in FY 2023 for India:

Investor CountryFDI Inflows (in USD billions)
United States6.04
United Arab Emirates3.35

Benefits of FDI for the host country

Economic Growth: FDI introduces capital, technology, and expertise, propelling economic diversification and development. 

Employment: FDIs generate new job opportunities. Additionally, they elevate the local workforce’s skills through training and technology introduction.

Infrastructure Development: FDI often boosts infrastructure, such as roads and ports, indirectly supporting the nation’s development and attracting further investment.

Technology Transfer: FDI facilitates the movement of technology between nations, fostering local innovation and introducing modern managerial practices.

Increased Export Potential: Through FDI, host countries gain better access to global markets, enhancing their export capabilities and sharpening the competitive edge of local businesses.

Benefits of FDI for India

Services Sector: From April 2000 to December 2021, the services sector, encompassing areas like banking, insurance, and outsourcing, attracted 22.5% of total FDI inflows.

Manufacturing Sector: Proactive government policies have bolstered FDI in industries like automobiles, textiles, and electronics, revitalising the manufacturing landscape.

Infrastructure Sector: FDI has been instrumental in developing roads, ports, and communication networks, enhancing India’s connectivity and trade capabilities.

There’s no disputing that foreign direct investment has been a big driver of India’s socio-economic growth.

Aspects of foreign direct investment that are risky

  • Political Instability: Changes in governments can lead to fluctuating policies, risking asset nationalisation or expropriation.
  • Economic Fluctuations: Currency devaluations or economic downturns can impact investment returns and demand.
  • Cultural Differences: Misunderstanding local customs can result in costly errors and misalignment with market needs.
  • Regulatory Challenges: Navigating unfamiliar labour laws, tax systems, or environmental regulations can be complex.
  • Transfer and Conversion Risks: Restrictions on profit repatriation or currency conversion can impede returns to parent companies.
  • Competitive Risk: Entrenched local competitors can pose challenges to new entrants.


When a country invests money in another, it brings jobs and new technologies to the recipient. But there are also challenges. Both sides must plan well. Governments can support these investments by creating rules that are easy to understand. 


Who controls FDI in India?

The government of India has an authorised department to monitor FDI activities in the country. The Department of Promotion of Industry and International Trade (DPIIT) regulates FDI in India, as per the guidelines of the Foreign Exchange Management Act.

What is greenfield or brownfield FDI?

Greenfield and brownfield are two different forms of FDIs. Greenfield involves investing in a foreign country from the ground level. It refers to starting the business from scratch, including constructing the premises. Brownfield investment refers to taking over an already existing facility through purchase or lease.

Which sectors are banned in India for FDI?

Lotteries – both online and offline, gambling and betting agencies, companies producing cigarettes, tobacco and other related products, chit funds, real estate business, trading in transferable development rights (TDRs) and other businesses where private investments are not allowed – atomic energy and railways.

How did FDI start in India?

FDI was one of the significant outcomes of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation in 1991. It was introduced by Dr Manmohan Singh, under the Foreign Exchange Management Act. Today, India is one of the most sought-after destinations for FDIs.

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