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30 4.4 Political Risk

What is political risk?

Political risk is generally defined as the risk to business interests resulting from political instability or political change. Political risk exists in every country around the globe and varies in magnitude and type from country to country. Political risks may arise from policy changes by governments to change controls imposed on exchange rates and interest rates.1 Moreover, political risk may be caused by actions of legitimate governments such as controls on prices, outputs, activities, and currency and remittance restrictions. Political risk may also result from events outside of government controls such as war, revolution, terrorism, labor strikes, and extortion.

Political risk can adversely affect all aspects of international business from the right to export or import goods to the right to own or operate a business. AON (www.aon.com), for example, categorizes risk based on economic; exchange transfer; strike, riot, or civil commotion; war; terrorism; sovereign non-payment; legal and regulatory; political interference; and supply chain vulnerability.

How to evaluate your level of political risk

Forms of investment and risk

For a firm considering a new foreign market, there are three broad categories of international business: trade, international licensing of technology and intellectual property, and foreign direct investment. A company developing a business plan may have different elements of all three categories depending on the type of product or service.

The choice of entry depends on the firm’s experience, the nature of its product or services, capital resources, and the amount of risk it’s willing to consider.2 The risk between these three categories of market entry varies significantly with trade ranked the least risky if the company does not have offices overseas and does not keep inventories there. On the other side of the spectrum is direct foreign investment, which generally brings the greatest economic exposure and thus the greatest risk to the company.

Protection from political risk

Companies can reduce their exposure to political risk by careful planning and monitoring political developments. The company should have a deep understanding of domestic and international affairs for the country they are considering entering. The company should know how politically stable the country is, strength of its institutions, existence of any political or religious conflicts, ethnic composition, and minority rights. The country’s standing in the international arena should also be part of the consideration; this includes its relations with neighbors, border disputes, membership in international organizations, and recognition of international law. If the company does not have the resources to conduct such research and analysis, it may find such information at their foreign embassies, international chambers of commerce, political risk consulting firms, insurance companies, and from international businessmen familiar with a particular region. In some countries, the governments will establish agencies to help private businesses grow overseas. Governments may also offer political risk insurance to promote exports or economic development. Private businesses may also purchase political risk insurance from insurance companies specialized in international business. Insurance companies offering political risk insurance will generally provide coverage against inconvertibility, expropriation and political violence, including civil strife (US Small Business Administration). Careful planning and vigilance should be part of any company’s preparation for developing an international presence.

Government policy changes and trade relations

A government makes changes in policies that have an impact on international business. Many reasons may cause governments to change their policies toward foreign enterprises. High unemployment, widespread poverty, nationalistic pressure, and political unrest are just a few of the reasons that can lead to changes in policy. Changes in policies can impose more restrictions on foreign companies to operate or limit their access to financing and trade. In some cases, changes in policy may be favorable to foreign businesses as well.

To solve domestic problems, governments often use trade relations. Trade as a political tool may cause an international business to be caught in a trade war or embargo.3 As a result, international business can experience frequent change in regulations and policies, which can add additional costs of doing business overseas.



  1. Barlett et al, 2004
  2. Schaffer et al, 2005
  3. Schaffer et al, 2005



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