Rethinking Foreign Direct Investment in South East Asia

Southeast Asia has been experiencing a boom in investment in land for agriculture. Much of this investment comes from within the ASEAN region, but also from the rest of Asia, Europe and North America. Whilst increased investment in the agriculture sector can bring benefits to rural populations, widespread social and environmental impacts associated with large-scale investments in land for food, fuel and agricultural commodities have also been documented across the region.

Policy and legal frameworks influence the way the risks, costs and benefits created by these investments are shared among multiple parties, and the extent to which investment promotes or undermines inclusive sustainable development. Multilateral and bilateral investment agreements, regional policy frameworks, investor-government contracts and national land, agriculture and investment policy all shape the regulation of agricultural investments in the region.

While legal protection of foreign investment has gained strength in recent years, much remains to be done to ensure that local rights are adequately protected, that those who stand to be affected by proposed investments have a voice in decision making, and that investments promote inclusive sustainable development.

With this as a background, a one day forum with speakers from government, civil society, academia and the private sector was organized in Bangkok in March 2013 by the Poverty-Environment Initiative, Chulalongkorn University, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Focus on the Global South.

Panellists and participants took part in lively moderated debates on how well policies and legal frameworks are shaping agricultural investments to meet rural citizens' needs and aspirations across Southeast Asia.

The forum asked what reforms are needed to secure economic and social benefits for host countries, how can social and environmental costs be minimised, and how might we thinking differently about agricultural investments in Southeast Asia?

 

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