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Foreign Direct Investment

According to UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2021, FDI flows to Portugal almost halved from USD 12 billion in 2019 to USD 6.3 billion in 2020, due to the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the same year, the total stock of FDI stood at USD 162 billion. Data by OECD show that the majority of investments are directed to the financial and insurance services, professional, scientific and technical activities, the wholesale and retail sectors, real estate (as Lisbon has become a key destination for FDI in real estate), and manufacturing. The main investing countries are the Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg, and France. According to EY's 2021 Attractiveness Survey, Portugal secured 154 new FDI projects in 2020, thus entering the top 10 investment destinations in Europe, positioning itself as one of the main destinations for FDI and demonstrating its resilience compared to other European countries. The latest data available from OECD shows that in the first semester of 2021 FDI inflows to Portugal totalled USD 2.6 billion, up by 21.6% compared to the same period one year earlier (when investments stood at USD 1.6 billion).

FDI is considered a priority by the Portuguese government. The country has recently launched the development of renewable energies, specifically solar energy (Portugal has the second largest solar power station in the world) and wave power (obtained from wave movements). These sectors could provide new opportunities to foreign investors, so as the IT and tourism sectors. Portugal also created "free zones" to strengthen technology-driven investments. Citizenship by Investment (ARI) via Portugal's Golden Visa programme offers a fast track for non-EU investors to gain citizenship. The government also launched the “Startup Visa” programme, a hosting program for foreign investors who wish to develop new projects in the Iberic country. Portugal offers a diversified economy and benefits from its EU member status, but bureaucratic and judicial burdens can discourage FDI. Government approval is required only in certain sensitive sectors, including defence, water management, public telecommunications, railways, maritime transportation, and air transport. The country should benefit from around EUR 14 billion in EU grants between 2021 and 2026, to support its Recovery and Resilience Plan. Portugal ranks 39th (out of 190) in the World Bank's latest Doing Business report, losing five positions compared to the previous edition.

 
 
Foreign Direct Investment 201820192020
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) 7,11512,0846,324
FDI Stock (million USD) 155,498165,411183,556
Number of Greenfield Investments* 130166110
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 3,6103,4684,081

Source: UNCTAD - Latest available data.

Note: * Greenfield Investments are a form of Foreign Direct Investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.

Country Comparison For the Protection of Investors Portugal OECD United States Germany
Index of Transaction Transparency* 6.0 6.5 7.0 5.0
Index of Manager’s Responsibility** 5.0 5.3 9.0 5.0
Index of Shareholders’ Power*** 7.0 7.3 9.0 5.0

Source: Doing Business - Latest available data.

Note: *The Greater the Index, the More Transparent the Conditions of Transactions. **The Greater the Index, the More the Manager is Personally Responsible. *** The Greater the Index, the Easier it Will Be For Shareholders to Take Legal Action.

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What to consider if you invest in Portugal

Strong Points

Portugal was one of the countries which was the most strongly hit by the economic crisis of the late 2000s. Thanks to a policy of rigor and the implementation of reforms of the banking sector, of pensions and of the labour market, the country has since regained an interesting economic competitiveness and has begun a deep diversification of its exports (both sectoral and geographical). Its economy has stabilised, with a GDP growth of 2.2% in 2019 (IMF) based on its main strengths:

  • A skilled and often multilingual workforce at a significantly lower cost than other Western European countries
  • A system promoting investment in innovation and R&D, which has enabled the country to attract new FDI, essential to its development. The large number of multinationals from all sectors testifies to it. 
  • Its strategic international relations with Europe, Africa and America, in addition to its membership of the European Union, allow Portugal to maintain close ties with its former colonies such as Brazil, Mozambique, Macao and Angola, and can serve as a gateway to other Portuguese-speaking markets
  • Early sectoral and geographical diversification of exports
  • Political stability and fluid governance
  • A good business environment (the country was ranked 39th on the World Bank's Doing Business 2020 report.
Weak Points

The main weaknesses of Portugal's economy include:

  • High unemployment rate
  • Economy is weakened by high levels of private and public debt
  • Small population
  • Low productivity
  • Underdeveloped manufacturing sector
  • Rigidity of labour law.
Government Measures to Motivate or Restrict FDI
In recent years, Government policies have prioritised the promotion of Portugal’s appeal to foreign investors. As a result, taxation procedures have been simplified, effective warehouse and transport logistics have been developed (especially in the Sines terminal located in the southwest of Portugal) and telecommunication infrastructure has been improved. The Government has also worked to establish the AICEP - an agency for investment and foreign trade. The Government adopted the golden visa residence programme, which is a simple and fast-track residence permit programme designed to attract foreign investment into the country. Other measures implemented to help draw investment include easing some labour regulations to increase workplace flexibility and creating a special aid regime for large products (over EUR 25 million).

To improve the business climate, the Government has created the "Simplex" website, an information repository containing all measures taken to reduce bureaucracy, and the 'Empresa na Hora' initiative (a company in one hour), which allows companies to incorporate in less than an hour.

Overall, the control of the public accounts has facilitated the exit of Portugal from the excessive deficit procedure initiated in 2009 by the European Union, which leaves progressively more manoeuvre room to the government. In 2019, the country reached its first-ever budget surplus.

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Investment Opportunities

The Key Sectors of the National Economy
The Agency for Investment in Portugal (AICEP) regularly publishes investment opportunities on its website. Sectors with large potential include:

  • Tourist investment (especially in the Douro Valley and the Alentejo region)
  • Agrifood projects in the Alentejo region (biofuels, olive oil, fruit, flowers, etc.)
  • Forest investment projects all over the country

Other sectors attracting substantial foreign investment are:

  • Automotive sector
  • The chemical industry, which benefits from wide experience especially in sectors from extraction to petrochemical refining as well as manufacturing products from the most basic to solutions with high added value
  • The electric and electronic sectors have recently undergone considerable transformation with the setting up of several foreign groups
  • With more than 7,600 companies in ICT, the Portuguese information and communication technologies market has shown itself capable of rapid adaptation to and effective assimilation of new technologies
  • Biological industries bring together several international projects in domains such as pharmacy, biotechnologies (especially with renowned Portuguese universities) and R&D
  • Call centres. The country has a qualified workforce, which speaks several languages and is competitive, associated with modern telecommunication networks and property which is easily accessible and inexpensive
  • In the tourism sector Portugal is promoting more high-end products and services.

For further information, consult the "Prominent Clusters" page on the AICEP portal.

High Potential Sectors

The sectors which have been officially designated as top priorities to be developed are:

  • Biotechnologies (to create synergies with the American MIT project in Portugal)
  • Shared service centres (call centres and associated infrastructure)
  • The electric and electronic sectors (a big gamble on alternative energies)
  • High value added chemistry (eg. polymers, etc.)
  • The NICT (new information and communication technologies)
  • High end tourism.
Privatization Programmes
Portugal launched an aggressive privatization program as part of its EU-IMF-ECB bailout, including state-owned enterprises in the air transportation (national airline company and airports), land transportation, energy, communications, the postal service (Correios), energy, sanitation, and insurance sectors.
Tenders, Projects and Public Procurement
Tenders Info, Tenders in Portugal
Ted - Tenders Electronic Daily, Business Opportunities in the EU
DgMarket, Tenders Worldwide
Base, Public Tenders Online (Portugal)
 

Sectors Where Investment Opportunities Are Fewer

Monopolistic Sectors
No monopolistic sectors. Concessions in the electricity and gas sectors are assigned only to companies with headquarters and effective management in Portugal.
Sectors in Decline
Traditional agriculture, faience, some textiles and furniture. The industrial sector of the economy decreased from 21.9% in 1999 to 17.7% in 2019.
 

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