Export credit agency

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An export credit agency (known in trade finance as ECA) or Investment Insurance Agency[1] is a private or quasi-governmental institution that acts as an intermediary between national governments and exporters to issue export financing. The financing can take the form of credits (financial support) or credit insurance and guarantees (pure cover) or both, depending on the mandate the ECA has been given by its government. ECAs can also offer credit or cover on their own account. This does not differ from normal banking activities. Some agencies are government-sponsored, others private, and others a combination of the two.

ECAs currently finance or underwrite about US$430 billion of business activity abroad - about US$55 billion of which goes towards project finance in developing countries - and provide US$14 billion of insurance for new foreign direct investment, dwarfing all other official sources combined (such as the World Bank and Regional Development Banks, bilateral and multilateral aid, etc.). As a result of the claims against developing countries that have resulted from ECA transactions, ECAs hold over 25% of these developing countries' US$2.2 trillion debt.[citation needed]

Export credit agencies use three methods to provide funds to an importing entity:

  • Direct Lending: This is the simplest structure whereby the loan is conditioned upon the purchase of goods or services from businesses in the organizing country.
  • Financial Intermediary Loans: Here, the export–import bank lends funds to a financial intermediary, such as a commercial bank, that in turn loans the funds to the importing entity.
  • Interest Rate Equalization: Under an interest rate equalization, a commercial lender provides a loan to the importing entity at below market interest rates, and in turn receives compensation from the export–import bank for the difference between the below-market rate and the commercial rate.

Officially supported export credits[edit]

Credits may be short term (up to two years), medium term (two to five years) or long term (five to ten years). They are usually supplier's credits, extended to the exporter, but they may be buyer's credits, extended to the importer. The risk on these credits, as well as on guarantees and insurance, is borne by the sponsoring government. ECAs limit this risk by being "closed" on risky countries, meaning that they do not accept any risk on these countries. In addition, a committee of government and ECA officials will review large and otherwise riskier than normal transactions.

Tied aid credits[edit]

Officially supported export credit may be connected to official development assistance (ODA) in two ways. First, they may be mixed with ODA, while still financing the same project (mixed credit). As the export credit is tied to purchases in the issuing country, the whole package qualifies as a tied aid credit, even if the ODA part is untied aid. Second, tied aid credits are not very different from export credits, except in interest, grace period (the time when there is no repayment of the principal) and terms of repayment. Such credits are separated from export credit by an OECD requirement that they have a minimum degree of "softness". "Softness" is measured by a formula that compares the present value of the credit with the present value of the same amount at standardized "commercial" terms. This difference is expressed as a percentage of the credit and called "concessionality level". Thus a grant has a concessionality level of 100%, a commercial credit scores zero per cent. The higher the concessionality level, the more the tied aid credit looks like ODA, the lower, the more it looks like an export credit.

Partially untied credits consist of a tied and an untied part. The latter is usually intended to finance "local cost", investment cost to be made in the importing country. This part may also be in a local currency. Partially untied aid is treated as tied aid.

International regulation[edit]

Both officially supported export credits and tied aid credit and grants are extended on terms controlled by governments. Therefore, there is a constant temptation to use these financial instruments to subsidize commercial exports in order to win a temporary advantage on an export market or to counterbalance such an action from another government (matching). However, the end result of such action is negative for importing countries (usually developing countries), who are rendered unable to choose the best combination of quality and price but consider financing first. It is also negative for tax payers, who foot the bill. It may only to the benefit of exporters whose government have the deepest pockets and the greatest willingness to subsidize, even though the macro-economic benefit of the subsidy is doubtful. In the past, there have been big, government-sheltered companies that were kept alive to a very large extent by export credits and tied aid credits.[citation needed] To avoid these traps, it was considered useful to standardize export credit conditions and to monitor matching and tied aid credits.

This situation has led first to an informal agreement in 1976 among some OECD countries, known as "The Consensus". This was succeeded in 1978 by a gentlemen's agreement facilitated by the OECD's now defunct Trade Directorate, which established a Working Party on Officially Supported Export Credits. This gentleman's agreement, officially known as the Arrangement on Guidelines for Officially Supported Export Credits, is known as "The Arrangement". Although negotiations are facilitated by the OECD, not all OECD member countries are participants and membership is possible for non-OECD countries. The Arrangement is supplemented by so-called "Sector Understandings" with rules tailored to specific sectors of industry, namely ships, nuclear power plants, civil aircraft, and climate change mitigation and water projects.[2]

Since 1999, country risk categories have been harmonized by the Arrangement and minimum premium rates have been allocated to the various risk categories. This is intended to ensure that competition takes place via pricing and the quality of the goods exported, and not in terms of how much support a state provides for its exporters.[3] The Arrangement does not extend to exports of agricultural commodities or military equipment. A recent decision at the World Trade Organization (WTO) indicates that the use of officially supported export credits in agriculture is bound by WTO members' commitments with respect to subsidised agricultural exports (see the WTO Appellate Body decision on the Brazil-US cotton case as it relates to the General Sales Manager (GSM) 102 and 103 programs and other US agricultural export credits, summarized here).

At EU level, the European Commission, in particular the Directorate General for Trade, plays a role in the harmonization of Export Credit Agencies and the co-ordination of policy statements and negotiation positions. This is based on council decisions 73/391/EEC and 76/641/EEC. These decisions provide for prior consultations among member states on long term export credits. Member states may ask each other if they are considering to finance a specific transaction with official export credit support. EU members may not subsidize intra-EU export credits. The application of the OECD arrangement in providing export credit is mandatory in EU countries under Art. 1 of Regulation (EU) No. 1233/2011.[4]

The Berne Union, or officially, the International Union of Credit & Investment Insurers, is an international organisation for the export credit and investment insurance industry. The Berne Union and Prague Club combined have more than 70 member companies spanning the globe. Its membership includes both commercial and state-sponsored insurers.

Support and Criticism[edit]

Some observers view state-sponsored export credits as nothing more than export subsidies by a different name. As such, the activities of ECAs are considered by some to be a type of corporate welfare.[5] Others argue that ECAs create debt in poor countries motivated not by development goals but in order to support rich countries' industry.[6] In addition, ECAs may soak up aid money as debt relief programs predominantly relieve poor countries from debt owed to donor countries' ECAs.[7] ECAs are also criticised for insuring companies against political actions which aim to protect workers' rights, other human rights or the natural environment in the countries where the investment is being made.[8]

Advocates of ECAs assert that export credits allow impoverished importers to purchase needed goods that would otherwise be unaffordable; export credits are components of a broader strategy of trade policies; and government involvement can achieve results that the private sector cannot, such as applying greater pressure on a recalcitrant borrower.

These arguments for and against export credits are not new, having been studied at length in academic literature. For a good general discussion, see Baron, David P. The Export-Import Bank: An Economic Analysis. Academic Press. 1983.; or Eaton, Jonathan. “Credit Policy and International Competition.” Strategic Trade Policy and the New International Economics, ed. Paul Krugman. MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. 1988.

List of export credit agencies[edit]

Multilateral export credit agencies[edit]

Official export credit agencies by country[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]