Malawi flag Malawi: Investing in Malawi

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Malawi

FDI in Figures

FDI flows to Malawi have been fluctuating in the recent past, averaging USD 145 million between 2019-21. According to UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2023, FDI inflows stood at USD 189 million in 2022, while the total stock of foreign investment reached USD 1.36 billion, around 10.9% of the country’s GDP: the ratio has been decreasing in the last five years and it is relatively low compared to other African countries. The agricultural sector attracts the most FDI - primarily from South Africa, Germany and the United States – followed by energy and mining. In recent years, there has been an increased interest in renewable energy projects, particularly in the solar and hydropower sectors. The exploration of rare earth elements near Lake Malawi could also attract new investments in the mining sector: for example, the Kaniyka niobium project – worth USD 250 million - will be the first niobium-mining project in Africa (Coface). There is also hope that an oil field would be discovered in the region. Other sectors that offer investment opportunities include agro-processing, manufacturing and tourism.

Malawi is eager to receive foreign investments and foreign investors are generally granted the same treatment as nationals, as the Malawian constitution protects investment irrespective of nationality. However, while not discriminatory to foreigners, investments in the country involve multiple, and sometimes time-consuming, administrative procedures, which may include obtaining a business license, a tax registration number, and a land permit. There is no government policy to screen foreign direct investment; however, FDIs need to be registered with the Malawi Investment Trade Centre. Furthermore, foreign investment is permitted in all sectors of the economy except those that may pose a danger to health, the environment, or national security. On the other hand, Malawi's landlocked geographical location and the inadequate condition of its infrastructure are barriers to foreign direct investment. The business climate also suffers due to a lack of skilled workforce, an underdeveloped financial sector, high transportation costs, unreliable supply of water and electricity, inefficient public institutions and difficulties in accessing credit. Malawi has taken steps to attract foreign investment, including the establishment of the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (MITC) to promote and facilitate investment in the country. The government has also implemented policies to improve the business environment, such as reducing the time and cost of starting a business and streamlining procedures for obtaining permits and licenses. Malawi ranks 115th out of 180 economies on the 2023 Corruption Perception Index and 129th out of 184 countries on the latest Index of Economic Freedom.

Foreign Direct Investment 202020212022
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) 252129189
FDI Stock (million USD) 1,5091,6051,361
Number of Greenfield Investments* 222
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 5646183

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 Malawi Sub-Saharan Africa United States Germany
Index of Transaction Transparency* 4.0 5.5 7.0 5.0
Index of Manager’s Responsibility** 7.0 3.5 9.0 5.0
Index of Shareholders’ Power*** 7.0 5.5 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 Malawi

Strong Points
The strong points of the Malawian economy include:
• natural resources (uranium, tea, coffee, tobacco)
no restrictions on remittance of foreign investment funds (including capital, profits, loan repayments and lease repayments)
• rapidly expanding services sector
• resumption of support by financial donors
• preferencial access to several markets: the country is member of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) and the COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa)
Weak Points
The main challenges for foreign investors include:
• an economy dominated by agriculture, vulnerable to weather conditions
• high inflation rates
• Infrastructure shortcomings (water, energy, IT)
• Scarcity of skilled and semi-skilled labor
• Low foreign exchange reserves
• corruption remains a major obstacle to carry out investment in Malawi.
• Increase in extreme poverty
• Diplomatic tensions with Tanzania and Mozambique
Government Measures to Motivate or Restrict FDI
The Government of Malawi offers a wide array of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives which apply equally to domestic and foreign investors and to several sectors including manufacturing, agriculture and mining.
Malawi recently passed a number of laws aimed at improving the investment environment, including:
• Amendment to the Taxation Act 2017, which increases the tax-free bracket for salaried employees (up to USD 41/month) and introduces an additional income tax bracket for high income earners (over USD 4,100/month).
• Amendment to the Value Added Tax Act 2017 which revises penalties and interest for various offenses under the Act and gives tax exemption for certain essential commodities including milk, eggs, and honey.
• Amendment to the Customs and Excise Act 2017 which imposes an excise duty on airtime, television subscriptions, gaming and betting (including lotteries).

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Latest Update: May 2024