IDB urged to make trade financing more competitive

Behind the resolutions, the statements and the rhetoric of the Board of Governors of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) at the recent 36th Annual Meeting which was held in Jeddah on June 29-30, were some commendable suggestions from member countries aimed at speeding up the efficiency and effectiveness of the bank.

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Ibrahim H. Canakci, undersecretary of Treasury of Turkey, which has recently acceded to membership of two IDB Group flagship standalone entities, the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) and the Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), for instance echoed four key areas through which the IDB could more effectively deliver and realize its core objectives in member countries.

The Turks, like the Egyptians, Tunisians, Iranians and several other member countries would like the multilateral development bank of the Muslim world to further improve the competitiveness of its mark-up policy and to extend the maturities for its Commodity Murabaha and Installment Sale facilities used especially in trade finance.

Egypt’s alternative governor to the IDB, Sameer Sayyad, was even more to the point strongly urging “a periodic review of the IDB Group’s pricing policy and its mobilization of resources at competitive prices, to help reduce the cost of financing projects in member countries, under conditions as easy as those applied by similar financing institutions.”

IDB managers privately concede that bank’s pricing has to be improved because if it remains uncompetitive say to the conventional trade and other financing, then it becomes a disincentive for corporates and entities in member countries to use these IDB financing facilities. This in turn undermines two of the very core objectives of the IDB of promoting intra-Islamic trade and Islamic banking and finance per se. Intra-Islamic trade currently only totals 16.5 percent of the total trade of the 56 IDB member countries.

However, the countries that under going political and economic transformation such as Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, also believe that a more competitive pricing for trade finance facilities and also concessionary financing SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) could help lessen the negative impact of high unemployment on society and help create real employment opportunities.

The ICD has been the first to respond stressing that it is already reviewing its mark-up and repayment schedules to make them more flexible as well as lowering its financing costs. It is also giving priority to targeting its financing to SMEs in member countries.

However, the criticism is largely aimed at the ITFC, which will have to improve its performance substantially if it is going to help the IDB Group reach its stated aim of increasing intra-Islamic trade to over 20 percent by 2015.

The establishment of the corporation was supposed to herald a new era for intra-Islamic trade. In 2009, ITFC’s trade funding allocations totaled $2.16 billion, of which 82 percent was directed to intra-Islamic trade. The ITFC says that its target for trade funding in 2011 is $3 billion. But put this against the total trade of the 56 IDB member countries of $3.374 trillion in 2009, then the sheer scale of the challenge faced by the ITFC and the IDB as a group becomes apparent.

Perhaps a sizeable increase in ITFC capital and resources may go some way in helping the corporation’s CEO, Waleed Al-Wohaib, and his team, to effect a more meaningful improvement in pricing, mark-up policy and maturity flexibility. But first Al-Wohaib will have to explain and justify ITFC’s current pricing, mark-up and maturity regime especially when IDB Board of Governors have repeatedly been raising this issue for the last few years. The corporation will also have to explain why the ITFC is less competitive in the above respect when compared with peer multilateral development banks.

Only recently, Al-Wohaib at an ITFC trade finance workshop at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce & Industry urged the Saudi private sector to utilize more and take greater advantage of ITFC’s financing programs. However, the corporation is not going to attract too many takers if they discover that they can get cheaper trade finance at more flexible conditions at their local bank. Many bankers in the Middle East would like to see the IDB group step up its role in facilitating the establishment of a truly global and mature Islamic trade finance industry.

Some such as Stella Cox, CEO of DDCAP Limited, one of the largest intermediation and facilitation companies servicing the Islamic finance industry especially in short-term commodity Murabaha transactions based on London Metal Exchange (LME) warrants, highlight that “in the wider market and especially noteworthy is the value of Murabaha to key emerging Islamic markets with the ITFC continuing to deliver classical structured models to support the development of commodity and agricultural supply chain transactions.”

Others would like the ITFC expand its product base to include more Murabaha syndications and structured trade finance solutions. Massoud Janaekeh, Director of Islamic Capital Markets at Bank of London & Middle East (BLME), for instance, would like to see the ITFC act more as a catalyst to develop and expand the international Islamic trade finance market by providing the platform for Islamic banks to participate in trade. “I think they genuinely can be a market maker, and a truly significant one. They can ease the flow of transactions rather than underwrite all of them by bringing in participation from banks, As such they don’t need the capital for underwriting, What they need is other Islamic banks committed to the cause,” he adds.

ITFC provides particular scope in developing Islamic structured trade finance (ISTF), which has grown to $370 million since 2008, but which is grossly modest compared to the potential. The corporation regards ISTF as “an innovative commodity-based financing technique designed for developing markets, including difficult ones, and a new secured solution with high impact advanced risk management techniques implemented to meet the increasing demand for Islamic financial products.”

ISTFs, which are used in import financing and pre-export financing, is essentially an alternative to conventional payment guarantees – both government and bank guarantees. The focus of ISTFs is on transaction cash flow as a source of repayment and not the beneficiary’s financial strength. The benefits of ISTF, according to ITFC, are that they are asset-backed; they are a more secure alternative to traditional lending; no government or bank or corporate guarantees are required; they can help reach out to new clients or new markets including difficult markets.

Canakci also reiterated several other challenges for the IDB to implement, which is supported by other member countries. These include the necessity for the IDB to diversify its resource mobilization sources by leveraging its AAA rating to tap international capital markets more frequently and to reduce over reliance on capital support by the member countries. In this respect, any suggestion to call in 50 percent of callable capital by some member countries may indeed by delayed or scuppered.

Turkey, Iran and Malaysia also wish to see some more urgency in the reform of the IDB especially through greater decentralisation. The Turks are keen for the IDB to establish a regional office in Istanbul which they stress will definitely enable the IDB Group to respond more efficiently to the requests of the member states in the region.

Several member countries are also keen on the IDB to play a bigger role in the deepening and diversification of the financial sector in member countries. “We believe that the vital role played by the bank in this area can be further enhanced through increasing equity investments, reinforcing sukuk issuances and promoting development of financial institutions in member countries,” stressed Canakci. The IDB has issued local currency sukuk in Malaysia and Singapore to date, but several other member countries want the Bank to originate local currency issuances in their markets.

One encouraging development which may impact positively on the trade finance regime and activities of the IDB Group is the fact that the latter has recently become a full member of the Evaluation Cooperation Group which is a network of independent evaluation units of the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs).

Joint evaluations would certainly help the Bank respond more appropriately to the needs of its members in the current circumstances, explained Canakci.

The Evaluation Cooperation Group, according to the promoters, was established by the heads of evaluation in multilateral development banks in 1996. Its mandate is to strengthen the use of evaluation for greater effectiveness and accountability; share lessons from evaluations and contribute to their dissemination; and harmonize performance indicators and evaluation methodologies and approaches; enhance evaluation professionalism within the multilateral development banks and to collaborate with the heads of evaluation units of bilateral and multilateral development organizations; and to facilitate the involvement of borrowing member countries in evaluation and build their evaluation capacity.


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