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Profiting from Sanctions: Economic Coercion and US Foreign Direct Investment in Third-Party States

  • Colin M. Barry and Katja B. Kleinberg

Scholarship on the determinants of foreign direct investment (FDI) flows has produced valuable insights into the role of host state characteristics and home-host relations. This study draws attention to another factor in investment decisions—the political and economic relations that home and host states maintain with third-party states. More narrowly, we focus on how investors respond to their home-state's imposition of economic sanctions against a trading partner. Greater economic integration has allowed states to use economic sanctions more frequently in recent decades. At the same time, economic sanctions are thought to have a distorting effect on global trade and financial flows as firms and governments adjust to new constraints. We argue that as firms at home in the sanctioning state respond to coercive measures against a trading partner by looking for alternative sources of profit, they will shift investments to states that can provide indirect access to the sanctioned economy. In particular, those states that are perceived as prospective sanctions-busters—major trading partners of the sanctions target or states with a history of sanctions-busting behavior—will benefit disproportionately from the misfortune of others. We test this conjecture using data on US economic sanctions and global flows of US FDI from 1966 to 2000. The findings reveal that investor decision making in part responds to political developments beyond the home-host dyad.

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