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I’ll pay you later: Sustaining relationships under the threat of expropriation

SITE and NES (New Economic School) researchers investigate how multinational firms manage their relationships with governments under the threat of expropriation. Exploring micro data from the oil and gas industry worldwide, they show that the multinationals delay investment, production and tax payments by more than five years in countries with weak institutions relative to countries with strong ones. These findings are consistent with the theory suggesting that delaying rents to the government in absence of formal enforcement could decrease the risk of expropriation.

I’ll pay you later: Sustaining relationships under the threat of expropriation

Authors: Elena Paltseva, Gerhard Toews & Marta Troya-Martinez


Contracts between governments and international firms are difficult to enforce, especially under weak institutions: governments are tempted to renegotiate tax payments after investments occurred. Theoretically, such a hold-up problem is solved by using self-enforcing agreements that increase the value of sustaining the relationship over time. By delaying production, tax payments and investments, firm’s threat to terminate following a renegotiation becomes more effective. Using rich proprietary data on the oil and gas industry, we show that contracts between the oil majors and petro-rich economies with weak institutions are indeed delayed relative to countries with strong institutions. To push for a causal interpretation, we show that this backloading in countries with weak institutions only emerges in early 1970s. We attribute this to a change in the international view towards countries’ sovereignty over natural resources brought by the postwar weakning of the OECD countries. This new world order made it politically difficult for developed countries to continue the established practice of military interventions to back up the enforcement of the contracts of their oil firms. Fading of (military) enforcement, together with the absence of local legal enforcement, triggered the need to backload the contracts.

Photo by Savvas Stavrinos, Pexels.com

SITE Development Climate Energy Environment Natural resources Economics Publication Working paper