Chapter

I Introduction

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
March 1990
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Export credit agencies continue to play a critical role in the flow of external finance to developing countries. The relatively limited demand for investment goods in many of the countries experiencing debt-servicing difficulties, together with the restrictions on cover that agencies have had to impose on noncreditworthy countries, has meant that agency activity has tended to concentrate on those developing countries that have avoided, or successfully adjusted to, debt service difficulties. In particular, a number of countries in Asia have made substantial use of agency credits, including the quasi-concessional financing available through mixed credits.

But export credit agencies have also extended substantial credits to countries that have rescheduled debts to official creditors and are implementing adjustment programs. In the initial stages of the debt crisis, sharp cutbacks in investment meant that the demand for new export credits was low and agencies only gradually acquired the confidence to reopen cover for medium-and long-term business. In 1988, for the first time since 1982, there was an increase in new commitments to developing countries, an important part of which went to rescheduling countries. In part this reflects the fact that agencies have become increasingly market-oriented in their operations. Movement toward a flexible premium structure has continued, and agencies are now prepared to remain open—at a price—for cover for medium- and long-term business for countries with debt-servicing difficulties that are implementing appropriate policies. Agencies have also developed and extended a range of new instruments designed to provide a better spread of risks, while still supporting exports to difficult markets.

Through their willingness to grant comprehensive relief on a case-by-case basis, official creditors have responded flexibly to the needs of individual countries. The ability of export credit agencies to also provide substantial new financing to rescheduling countries has depended on the strategy of debt subordination achieved through fixing cutoff dates.

Agencies unanimously held that if they are to continue to offer cover for new credits to rescheduling countries, cutoff dates must remain fixed. They expressed concern at proposals for changing cutoff dates. Adding to the stock of commercial debt by rescheduling ever larger amounts would not be a viable solution, and it would undermine official creditors’ debt strategy. In the view of the staff, if countries implementing strong adjustment programs have problems servicing post-cutoff date debt, additional funding on appropriate terms would need to be found.

As to the role of export credits at present, when the debt strategy’s continuing emphasis on new money flows is being supplemented by debt reduction, the debt subordination strategy followed by export credit agencies has left them well positioned to provide necessary new financing for middle-income countries pursuing strong adjustment. In heavily indebted low-income countries, whose needs for project finance should most appropriately be met by concessional finance, export credit agencies continue to play an important role in supporting essential short-term credits.

The key to both successful development and the quality of agency portfolios is that export credits be limited to economically viable projects and that borrowing countries maintain appropriate policies. All of the agencies covered by this study pointed to the need to pay close attention to the quality of new credits. In this context, lending to well-qualified buyers in the private sector has the attraction that decisions to borrow are more dependent on purely commercial considerations than was sometimes the case with public sector buyers. Agencies stressed that the major impediments to extending additional credits to private buyers in developing countries were the lack of information on the creditworthiness of potential borrowers and the difficulties agencies had in enforcing legal claims through the courts. Agencies also pointed to a weakness of the financial system in many developing countries, which made it difficult to obtain reliable guarantees from local banks. The World Bank-Berne Union EXCEL1 facility also holds the promise of promoting credits to the private sector.

Innovations in project finance are enhancing the ability of export credit agencies to support exports to developing countries. Some of these, such as limited recourse financing and leasing, provide greater flexibility to debtor countries in managing their external payments, although the external obligations involved still need to be considered carefully when a country is examining its borrowing strategy. By contrast, the apparent security that escrow accounts offer to some creditors may pose troublesome issues for other lenders, particularly the multilateral institutions.

Export credit agencies are currently being buffeted by strong forces for structural change: financial difficulties, competition from private insurers, the strengthening of the OECD Consensus, and, for European agencies, the approach of 1992. Agencies said that the days when governments were prepared to spend large sums on export promotion are clearly gone. Moreover, the idea that official lending to sovereign borrowers is risk-free no longer holds. Agencies, particularly those in Europe that pioneered the techniques of export credit insurance, are undergoing a challenging period of transition. Over time, the scope for nonmarket competition for exports is likely to continue to decline, and agencies’ response to these challenges will determine the role they will play in international capital flows in the 1990s.

A list of the export credit agencies covered by the study appears in the preface, and a glossary of the terms used in the paper is provided in Appendix V.

Appendix I provides brief case studies of cover policy toward a number of developing countries. Appendix II reviews the available data on officially supported export credits; Appendix III provides background on export credit agency cash flows and accounting practices; and Appendix IV provides background material on the OECD Consensus.

The analysis of export credit developments continues to be greatly impeded by data deficiencies, as previous papers in this series have noted. While the data still suffer from significant deficiencies, and the most recent data are affected by a major break in the series, OECD staff have been working with export credit agencies to improve the quality of the data contained in the Bank for International Settlements-Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (BIS-OECD) publication, Statistics on External Indebtedness: Bank and Trade-Related Nonbank External Claims on Individual Borrowing Countries and Territories. In particular, the data are now adjusted to take account of exchange rate variations. The Secretariat of the OECD Export Credit Group has also made available for this study previously unpublished data prepared for the use of the Group. The Berne Union continues to improve the statistical series it prepares on the basis of reports by member agencies, and it has permitted Fund staff to use these as background materials for this report.

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