Export credit agency

Export credit agencies, known in trade finance as ECAs, are private or quasi-governmental institutions that act as intermediaries 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.

ECAs currently finance or underwrite about $430 billion of business activity abroad - about $55 billion of which goes towards project finance in developing countries - and provide $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. Sadly, these data are unreliable in the absence of source, definition, or date.

Officially supported export credits

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

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 crdit 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 us tied aid.

International regulation

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 hav the deepest pockets and the greatest willingness to subsidize, even though the macro-economic outcome 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. 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 ad membership is possble for non-OECD countries.

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. 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).

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.

At EU level, the European Commission, in particular DG 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.

Polemic on ECAs

Observers argue for and against export credits. Some observers view them as nothing more than export subsidies by a different name. Others argue that export credits may further the burden of debt that poor countries already suffer. The activities of ECAs are considered by some to be a type of welfare for large corporations. 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. Advocates of ECAs have assertions of their own, such as the following: 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.). Of course, these arguments also spill over into broader literature and it is certainly important not to confuse the agency that applies the export credits, the ECA, with the actual policy of providing guarantees or direct lending support to facilitate exports. For example, some accuse the Canadian Wheat Board of providing export credits (for a strident representation of this argument, see Goodloe, Carol. “The Canadian Wheat Board: Government Guarantees and Hidden Subsidies?” The Estey Centre Journal of International Law and Trade Policy, Vol 5 No 2, p 102-122. 2004.).

ECAs are increasingly requiring member countries to undertake anti-corruption due diligence when applying for export credit. This is due to the increased international enforcement of anti-bribery laws.

Examples

European Union

* Austria: Österreichische Kontrollbank [http://www.oekb.at/control/index.html (OeKB)]
* Belgium: Office National du Ducroire / Nationale Delcrederedienst [http://www.ducroire.be/ (OND)]
* Czech: Export Guarantee and Insurance Corporation [http://www.egap.cz/ (EGAP)] - insurance
* Czech:Czech Export Bank [http://www.ceb.cz/ CEB] - credit
* Denmark: Eksport Kredit Fonden [http://www.ekf.dk/ (EKF)]
* Finland: Finnvera|Finnvera Oyj [http://www.finnvera.fi/index.cfm?id=3 (Finnvera)] - insurance
* Finland: Finnish Export Credit Ltd. [http://www.fec.fi/ (FEC)] - credit
* France: Direction des Relations Economiques Extérieures (Ministère de l'Economie) (DREE) - credit
* France: Compagnie française d'assurance pour le commerce extérieur [http://www.coface.fr/ (COFACE)] - insurance
* Germany: [http://www.hermes-kredit.com/ Euler-Hermes Kreditversicherungs-AG] Hermes cover
* Germany: AuslandsGeschäftsAbsicherung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland [http://www.agaportal.de/en/index.html (AGA)]
* Greece: Export Credit Insurance Organisation [http://www.ecio.gr/en/organization/index.html (ECIO)]
* Hungary: Hungarian Export-Import Bank [http://www.eximbank.hu/index.php?lang=en (Eximbank)] - credit
* Hungary: Hungarian Export Credit Insurance Ltd [http://www.mehib.hu/Default.aspx (MEHIB)] - insurance
* Italy: Servizi Assicurativi del Commercio Estero [http://www.sace.it/GruppoSACE/content/it/index.html (SACE SpA)]
* Luxembourg: Office du Ducroire [http://www.ducroire.lu/ (ODD)]
* Netherlands [http://atradius.com/nl/en/dutchstatebusiness/index.jsp Atradius Credit Insurance N.V.] Atradius
* Poland:Korporacja Ubezpieczén Kredytów Eksportowych [http://www.kuke.com.pl/ (KUKE)]
* Portugal: Companhia de Seguro de Créditos [http://www.cosec.pt/ COSEC)]
* Slovakia: Export-Import Bank of the Slovak Republic [http://www.eximbanka.sk/buxus/generate_page.php?page_id=92 (Eximbank SR)]
* Spain: Secretaría de Estado de Comercio (Ministerio de Economía)
* Spain: Compañía Española de Crédito a la Exportación [http://www.cesce.es/cda/home_id53.jsp?pageid=54&idioma=es&idiomaCesnet=ESP (CESCE)]
* Sweden: Exportkreditnämnden [http://www.ekn.se/ (EKN)]
* UK: Export Credits Guarantee Department [http://www.ecgd.gov.uk/ (ECGD)]

Other members of the OECD Working Party on Export Credits

* Australia: Export Finance and Insurance Corporation [http://www.efic.gov.au/ (EFIC)]
* Canada: Export Development Canada [http://www.edc.ca/ (EDC)]
* Japan: Nippon Export and Investment Insurance [http://nexi.go.jp/ (NEXI)]
* Japan: Japan Bank for International Cooperation [http://www.jbic.go.jp/ (JBIC)]
* Korea: Korea Export Insurance Corporation [http://www.keic.or.kr/ (KEIC)]
* Korea: [http://www.koreaexim.go.kr/en/ Export Import Bank of Korea] [http://www.koreaexim.go.kr/kr/index.jsp (KEXIM)]
* Mexico: Banco National de Comercio Exterior [http://www.bancomext.gob.mx/ (BNCE)]
* New Zealand: Export Credit Office [http://www.nzeco.govt.nz/ (ECO)]
* Norway: The Norwegian Guarantee Institute for Export Credits [http://www.giek.no/index_en.asp (GIEK)]
* Switzerland: Swiss Export Risk Insurance [http://www.serv-ch.com/en/index.html (SERV)]
* Turkey: Export Credit Bank of Turkey [http://www.eximbank.gov.tr/ (Türk Eximbank)]
* United States: Export-Import Bank of the United States [http://www.exim.gov/ (Ex-im Bank)]

Others

* Brazil: Brazilian Export Credit Insurance Corporation [http://www.sbce.com.br (SBCE)]
* China: China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation [http://www.sinosure.com.cn/sinosure/english/English.html Sinosure]
* Hong Kong: Hong Kong Export Credit Insurance Corporation [http://www.hkecic.com/eng/noflash.html (HKECIC)]
* India: Export Credit Guarantee Corporation of India Ltd. [https://www.ecgc.in/Portal/index.aspx (ECGC)]
* Israel: The Israel Export Insurance Corporation [http://www.ashra.gov.il/ (ASHRA)]
* Singapore: Export Credit Insurance Corporation of Singapore Ltd. [http://www.ecics.com.sg/ (ECICS)]
* Taiwan: Export-Import Bank of the Republic of China [http://www.eximbank.com.tw/english/index.asp (EXIM)]

World Bank functions of ECAs are sometimes compared to functions of the World Bank

Known Due Diligence Companies

* Global Recovery Group, LLC [http://www.globalrecoverygroup.com USA]
* Kroll, Inc [http://www.kroll.com USA]
* Crisis Control Group, LLC [http://www.hqccg.com USA]
* Control Risk Group [http://www.crg.com UK]

Online Due Diligence Providers

* Choicepoint, Inc [http://www.choicepoint.com/ USA]
* Knowx [http://www.knowx.com/ USA]

External links

* [http://www.berneunion.org.uk/ Berne Union] the leading international organisation
* [http://www.oecd.org/department/0,2688,en_2649_34169_1_1_1_1_1,00.html OECD Export Credit Division]
* [http://www.eca-watch.org/ ECA Watch] international NGO campaign on export credit agencies
* [http://www.fern.org/pages/eca/eucamp.html European export credit agencies reform campaign] , coordinated by FERN
* [http://www.ecologic.de/download/projekte/1800-1849/1809/1809wcd_ecas_en.pdf The Use of Environmental and Social Criteria in Export Credit Agencies’ Practices] , by Markus Knigge et al. Published in 2003 by the [http://www.gtz.de/en/ Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit - GTZ]
* [http://www.interchangelimited.com/ Interchange Solutions Limited] - Leading provider of anti-corruption due diligence for Export Credit Agencies
* [http://www.wilsonrae.com.ar/ Estudio Wilson-Rae Abogados] - Leading Law Firm in Argentina providing services to Export Credit Agencies


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