Each year, GTR’s editorial team selects the market’s Best Deals from the previous 12 months. The winning deals are chosen from submissions sent to GTR, and feature a mix of trade, commodities, supply chain and export finance as well as fintech innovation transactions.

Congratulations to those behind these 10 deals, which were chosen as the top transactions from 2023.

Winning deals

 

Accelerating industrialisation and economic growth in West Africa

  • Deal name: Arise IIP credit facility
  • Borrower: Arise Integrated Industrial Platforms Limited
  • Amount: US$400mn
  • Lender: African Export-Import Bank
  • Law firm: Hogan Lovells
  • Tenor: 84 months
  • Date signed: August 2023

 

This US$400mn credit facility extended by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to Arise Integrated Industrial Platforms (IIP) underscores the transformative impact of strategic financing in advancing industrialisation and sustainable development across Africa.

The deal stands out as a pivotal initiative driving economic growth and industrial development in West Africa. Structured as a US$100mn revolving working capital facility and a US$300mn term loan facility, the financing will facilitate the procurement of raw materials for further processing and export by Arise IIP’s subsidiaries in Benin, Togo and Gabon. Additionally, it will provide essential funding for capital expenditure to support the expansion of existing special economic zones in these countries.

The bank’s risk mitigation measures incorporate independent inspections and controls of the commodities funded under the facility, including assignment of export proceeds to ring-fenced repayment sources.

Afreximbank outlines in its submission to GTR that Arise IIP’s significant investments in modern processing infrastructure align with the industrialisation agendas of these nations, but that access to trade finance and growth capital remains limited due to domestic financial market constraints.

Afreximbank’s intervention fills this financing gap and drives manufacturing capabilities, export development and employment generation.

The bank says that its support “is being availed at a time of heightened political instability in the region and will ensure the countries remain economically vibrant with continued generation of export revenues”.

 

Building multi-country, sustainability-linked SCF

  • Deal name: Cellnex supply chain finance
  • Borrower: Cellnex
  • Facility limit: €110mn
  • Lender: Santander CIB
  • Tenor: 60 days (average)
  • Date signed: May 2023

 

Transitioning from a small local supply chain finance programme to a cross-border, multi-currency arrangement covering thousands of suppliers requires innovation and sophistication.

This deal saw Santander create a “tailor-made” supply chain finance programme for telecoms infrastructure giant Cellnex. The Barcelona-headquartered company previously had a programme in place covering 200 local suppliers, but with Santander’s help, is now introducing an offering for around 5,500 suppliers in 11 countries.

The programme covers invoice volumes of €2.3bn per year, across several currencies.

Its initial launch covered suppliers in Spain and Italy, before expanding to France, Portugal and the UK in late 2023 and early 2024.

By Q2 2024, the programme is due to onboard suppliers in six more markets, including Poland and Switzerland.

The inclusion of several features developed to address Cellnex’s requirements, including financing confirming, FX, multi-holder or debt aggregation, demonstrates the innovative nature of the facility.

Though Santander is providing €100mn of the facility, a further €10mn is generated through syndication, with the Spanish lender acting as payment agent. This structure allows Cellnex to work with multiple banks while having a single entry point and fronting bank.

The programme also boasts strong sustainability credentials, with pricing tied to supplier performance.

Based on external ESG assessments by the Carbon Disclosure Project, Cellnex can rank its suppliers into three tiers. Those that improve their sustainability ranking can climb those tiers and receive better pricing while, in turn, contributing to Cellnex’s efforts to reduce scope 3 emissions.

 

First-of-its-kind facility for Côte d’Ivoire trade

  • Deal name: First-to-market Miga sovereign trade finance loan
  • Borrower: Republic of Côte D’Ivoire, acting through the Ministry of Economy and Finance
  • Facility amount: €100mn
  • Lender: Rand Merchant Bank
  • Guarantor: Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency
  • Tenor: 1 year
  • Date of signing: September 2023

 

Traditionally, African sovereign borrowers have relied on longer-term financing facilities, which can often come with higher costs or require tapping into local markets for currency. Coupled with retreating investment and reduced liquidity from many commercial lenders, Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) saw an opportunity to take a fresh approach.

Working with the backing of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (Miga), RMB extended a first-of-its-kind €100mn facility to the government of Côte d’Ivoire in 2023.

Funds are disbursed to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and are to be used for short-term loans covering trade-related payments, supporting key sectors of the economy, including healthcare, infrastructure and agriculture.

Miga said when the deal was signed it would help the West African nation “unlock new liquidity” and maintain “a diversified lending base at a time when private sector players are retreating from core markets”.

This award recognises not only the innovative nature of the transaction, but the potential for similar facilities to be deployed in other African markets.

Miga confirmed to GTR that securing similar deals is now an area of focus for the institution, and as of press time, its board is considering an application from another lender for a similar facility in Senegal.

According to Ben Bechet, head of trade and working capital structured solutions at RMB, the bank is talking to other governments on the continent about the possibility of more deals, adding: “We’re excited to bring new liquidity into the sovereign space in Africa, benefiting them with competitive interest rates and a streamlined deal execution process.”

 

Making trade finance click for B2B freight

  • Deal name: FreightAmigo embedded finance
  • Borrower: FreightAmigo Services Limited
  • Amount: US$2.3mn
  • Lender: HSBC, Hong Kong branch
  • Tenor: 60 days
  • Date of signing: June 2023 (date of drawdown)

 

Cross-border e-commerce has exploded in recent years. This deal demonstrates how trade finance is now playing a role in serving customers in this market.

FreightAmigo operates a platform selling shipping space to customers, including B2B sellers. It was seeking a point-of-sale financing solution for those customers, similar to buy now, pay later products in the consumer market.

HSBC stepped in with a US$2.3mn receivables financing structure with FreightAmigo as the seller and bank’s customer, which allows FreightAmigo’s customers, as buyers, to extend their payment terms when booking on the platform, using an API.

Credit decisions will be based on buyers’ trading history and credit profiles.

The transaction is an important development in a booming e-commerce market – particularly in Asia – where customers expect a rapid and fully digital experience.

The bank sees the deal as a benchmark for other B2B online sellers.

“As people have higher expectations of having near-instant purchase experience, this API-enabled solution will unlock new sales opportunities for our clients by offering an additional payment option and almost immediately available finance to improve acceptance of their customers,” HSBC’s co-head of global trade and receivables finance for Asia Pacific, Aditya Gahlaut, said last year.

FreightAmigo’s co-founder and CEO Ivy Tse says that “as the market’s first ‘ship now, pay later’ service, we hope to enhance the flexibility of enterprises through this new solution”.

 

IFC, Citi partner on emerging market supply chain finance initiative

  • Deal name: GSCF Citi I (Global Supply Chain Finance Program Citibank Facility Phase I)
  • Amount: US$300mn
  • Lenders: Citi, IFC
  • Tenor: Up to 12 months
  • Date signed: June 2023

 

In June last year, Citi and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched a new pilot project to help channel working capital to emerging markets.

The US$300mn facility forms part of the IFC’s Global Supply Chain Finance Program (GSCF), initially unveiled in December 2022. It will provide “innovative and affordable” financing options to large and small suppliers, the IFC says.

The buyers participating in the pilot will all be existing Citi clients, with the IFC and Citi funding the project equally.

The project builds on the IFC’s previous work in Mexico, which includes developing the local credit infrastructure framework and helping introduce factoring, reverse factoring and other asset-based financing products to the market.

“By leveraging these legal and operational advances, the project aims at strengthening a market in Mexico, using a new SCF solution, to reach sub-investment grade buyers and to broaden access to finance for SME suppliers,” Citi says in its submission document.

Citi’s global head of trade and working capital solutions Chris Cox says: “Citi and IFC share a joint goal of this pilot being a precursor to a framework facility which will support supply chain financings in emerging markets.

“By leveraging Citi’s unique global network, and IFC’s emerging market expertise, we are looking to support our clients to help them grow their supply chains in emerging markets all over the world.”

The IFC adds that the supply chain finance programme will also help “to solve the supply chain finance gaps for SMEs and women-owned suppliers and expand access to sustainable supply chain finance”.

 

Europe’s first circular gigafactory

  • Deal name: Northern Lights
  • Borrower: Northvolt Ett
  • Amount: US$5bn
  • Senior MLAs: Banca IMI/Intesa Sanpaolo, BNP Paribas, Danske Bank, Deutsche Bank, ING, KfW Ipex-Bank, Natixis, Santander CIB, SEK, SMBC, Société Générale, Standard Chartered
  • MLAs: ABN Amro, Crédit Agricole CIB, DNB, JP Morgan, MUFG, SEB, Swedbank
  • Lead arrangers: BMO, Citi, Nordic Investment Bank, Rabobank, Siemens
  • Other lenders: European Investment Bank
  • ECAs: Euler Hermes, Export-Import Bank of Korea, K-Sure, Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, the Swedish National Debt Office (Riksgälden)
  • Law firms: Allen & Overy, Cederquist, Latham & Watkins, Mannheimer Swartling, Milbank
  • Tenor: 11 years
  • Date signed: December 2023

 

In the Swedish town of Skellefteå, just outside of the Arctic Circle, a manufacturing facility is being developed that its backers say will cement European electric vehicle (EV) supply chains and reduce reliance on producers in Asia.

Swedish startup Northvolt first started producing batteries at its Northvolt Ett factory in 2021, a year after it secured an export credit agency-backed debt package, worth US$1.6bn, for the first phase of the project.

Yet the company is now eyeing an expansion of the site amid booming demand from EV manufacturers. Northvolt has already locked in long-term offtake contracts worth over US$55bn with major carmakers including the likes of BMW, Volvo, Scania and Volkswagen.

In need of vast sums of capital to realise such ambitions, last year Northvolt turned to the bank market for support.

This winning deal, billed as the largest green loan ever raised in Europe, involved 23 commercial lenders and a group of public backers and provides US$5bn to expand the size of the project even further. According to Standard Chartered, “it is the largest financing in the battery gigafactory space to date”.

The transaction refinances the project finance agreement from 2020 and also provides debt to expand the gigafactory’s capacity to 60GWh, as well as funds to build a world-class recycling facility nearby – Revolt Ett. Northvolt says it will be the first fully “circular” gigafactory outside of Asia.

BNP Paribas, which acted as the senior debt advisor, notes it was a “complex transaction” that will finance the first “fully circular battery cell manufacturing site in Europe”.

The project has been praised for its steadfast commitment to produce the world’s “greenest” EV batteries. Northvolt Ett is CO2 neutral and “significantly more sustainable than comparable projects” due to its 100% use of green hydropower energy, KfW Ipex-Bank notes.

 

Mega-financing for India 5G rollout

  • Deal name: Reliance Jio 5G
  • ECA financing
  • Borrower: Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited
  • Amount: US$4.4bn (aggregate)
  • MLAs/lenders: Bank of America, Citi, Export Development Canada (EDC), HSBC (facility agent on Finnvera loan), ING, JP Morgan (facility agent on EKN loan), KfW Ipex-Bank, Standard Chartered
  • ECAs: EDC, EKN, Finnvera
  • Law firms: Cederquist, Juris Corp, Milbank, Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Date of signing: Various dates in 2023

 

Rolling out 5G in a country with more than 1.4 billion people is a complex undertaking and requires a large amount of equipment from foreign suppliers.

After Reliance Industries’ telecoms arm, Reliance Jio Infocomm, reportedly won airwaves worth US$11bn in India’s 2022 5G spectrum auction, a retinue of commercial lenders and export credit agencies (ECAs) stepped in to finance the imports required to upgrade the telecommunications infrastructure.

The resulting aggregate financing is notable for its sheer size. Reliance says it is also unique because it finances the rollout and commissioning of a 5G network, rather than solely equipment deliveries.

It is comprised of three separate deals signed over the course of 2023: a US$1.35bn and €745mn facility covered by Sweden’s EKN; a US$700mn and €798mn commercial loan covered by Finnvera, the Finnish ECA, and a US$600mn direct loan from Canada’s ECA EDC.

The aggregate financing was the largest ECA-supported facility signed by a corporate globally during 2023, according to HSBC and Bank of America.

The Finnvera and EKN facilities, used by Reliance to procure purchases from Nokia and Ericsson respectively, are the highest value deals either ECA has ever provided to a private corporate, according to Reliance’s submission to GTR.

It is also the first time the ECAs have covered a Reliance group transaction.

“Partnerships with the mandated lead arrangers, the agent, EKN, Reliance Jio and Milbank were all critical in the overall success of the deal,” says the submission from Bank of America, the largest single US dollar lender on the EKN transaction.

 

Securing energy for Italy

  • Deal name: Sace Push Strategy
  • Borrower: Mercuria
  • Amount: €500mn
  • MLAs: UniCredit (global coordinator), ING, Natixis, Société Générale, UBS
  • Lead arranger: Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank
  • ECA: Sace
  • Law firm: Clifford Chance
  • Tenor: 5 years
  • Date signed: April 2023

 

  • Borrower: Vitol
  • Amount: €550mn
  • Arranging bank: SMBC
  • Lenders: Crédit Agricole CIB, Intesa Sanpaolo, Santander, Société Générale, UniCredit
  • ECA: Sace
  • Law firm: Clifford Chance
  • Tenor: 5 years
  • Date signed: August 2023

 

  • Borrower: Gunvor
  • Amount: €400mn
  • MLAs: UniCredit (global coordinator, bookrunner, documentation and facility agent), Crédit Agricole CIB, DZ Bank, ING
  • Lead arranger: Erste Group Bank
  • ECA: Sace
  • Law firm: Clifford Chance
  • Tenor: 5 years
  • Date signed: December 2023

 

Export credit agencies (ECAs) have for decades coaxed their domestic manufacturers to explore new markets, often in the riskier parts of the world, by covering them against political and non-payment risks. Yet in the past two years, following the start of the Ukraine crisis, the industry has also turned its attention to supporting strategic imports.

Italy’s Sace has been at the forefront of Italian efforts to secure stable supplies of fuel in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, signing a trio of bumper deals with three of the largest commodities traders in the market – Vitol, Mercuria and Gunvor – under its Push Strategy programme.

While the initiative was launched to help Italian suppliers gain access to international markets by targeting foreign buyers, Sace has rejigged the scheme in a bid to lock in vital natural gas and LNG imports.

In April 2023, it extended an 80% guarantee to a group of banks for a €500mn multi-currency facility for Mercuria and, in August, provided similar cover to a slightly larger deal involving Vitol. Gunvor joined the party later in the year when it secured Sace’s backing on an untied €400mn term loan.

Sace says the Vitol facility was “not only marked by its substantial loan amount and structure, but also for its innovative approach”.

“Despite challenges, the transaction persevered, navigating economic intricacies and geo-political considerations,” the agency adds.

Sace argues its support will also provide an indirect boost to Italy’s export sector, with the traders agreeing to participate in match-making events organised by the ECA.

In September, Michal Ron, Sace’s chief international business officer, said the Vitol guarantee would give Italian companies access to raw materials that are fundamental for the continuity of their activities in Italy and abroad.

“Support for strategic imports has become an important new response from Sace, in the light of the complex international scenario, that aims to ensure greater stability to the national economic fabric, boosting the competitiveness of Italian companies in foreign markets and consolidating growth in domestic ones,” she said.

 

Insurance secured for Ukrainian sea exports in “unique agreement”

  • Deal name: Sea route for exporters from Ukraine
  • Borrower/beneficiary: Ascot Underwriting
  • Amount: US$10mn
  • LC issuer: Ukrgasbank
  • LC confirmer: DZ Bank
  • Broker: Marsh
  • ECA: ECA Ukraine (applicant for letter of credit)
  • Law firm: Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Tenor: Three years
  • Date signed: December 2023

 

This deal enables shipowners exporting agricultural supplies and other goods via the Ukrainian sea corridor to source insurance for their vessels.

The “unique agreement” follows the collapse of the Black Sea grain initiative, which has seen seaborne exports from Ukraine’s ports hampered by steep premiums to cover the risk of damage from war hazards.

Ukrgasbank is issuing a US$10mn standby letter of credit to Ascot Underwriting, with ECA Ukraine as the applicant, valid for a three-year period.

Confirmed by Germany’s DZ Bank, the letter of credit will be used to reimburse insurers when claims arise. The facility is also backed through a guarantee issued by Ukraine’s economy ministry.

The deal is part of a bigger programme, dubbed Unity, in which Lloyd’s of London insurers draw on a backstop from the Ukrainian government to underwrite up to US$50mn in hull and separate protection and indemnity war risk insurance.

While the deal is initially targeted at agricultural companies, it will “facilitate the transportation of other products by Ukrainian exporters, as the mechanism is not limited to agricultural production, unlike the grain corridor”, says Rodion Morozov, acting chairperson of Ukrgasbank’s management board.

The facility is also backed by another standby letter of credit issued by Ukreximbank. Norton Rose Fulbright provided legal advice.

Marcus Baker, Marsh’s global head of marine, cargo and logistics, says: “The creation of this public-private partnership, with insurers working in tandem with the Ukrainian government and its banks, will accelerate the urgent resumption of vital grain exports amid the ongoing effects of this brutal conflict.”

 

A fresh approach to capital relief

  • Deal name: Trafin 2023-1
  • Amount: US$3.5bn of reference assets; US$227.5mn placed with investors
  • Issuer/arranger: Deutsche Bank
  • Law firm: Clifford Chance
  • Tenor: 3.5 years
  • Date signed: November 2023

 

By placing tranches of notes with institutional investors, Deutsche Bank’s innovative Trafin programme provides the bank with additional funding, while reducing the amount of capital it must hold, as investors effectively take on the risk of absorbing initial losses.

Trafin 2023-1, the fifth iteration of the synthetic securitisation programme, provides credit protection for an underlying portfolio of trade finance assets worth US$3.5bn, including letters of credit and accounts receivables.

The launch in November saw Deutsche Bank originate, structure and place an initial loss tranche of US$227.5mn with a syndicate of investors from Europe and the Americas.

Trafin 2023-1 has a 3.5-year maturity, with the portfolio replenished each month with new short-term assets. The lender says strong investor interest meant its order book was oversubscribed, meaning the transaction could be priced more tightly than for comparable risk transfer products.

As well as giving the bank capital relief without taking assets off its balance sheet, the transaction also helps boost the wider availability of trade finance products as an asset class.

Deutsche Bank says there is growing appeal for investment in short-term products, diversified across various industries, geographies and client types. Trade finance’s self-liquidating nature and typically low default rates make it “a stable, attractive and relatively scarce asset class for capital market investors”, it says.

Oliver Resovac, the bank’s global co-head of trade finance and lending, adds: “Going forward, we believe these products will play an increasingly important role in providing additional sources of capital.”