Australia’s export credit agency, Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic), could receive an A$1bn cash injection of callable capital, a mandate to finance larger overseas projects and a new name as part of a bill expected to pass in the house of representatives this week.
The increase in callable capital, which refers to capital that has not yet been paid in by shareholders, will bring Efic’s total capital base to nearly A$1.7bn, a 150% increase, comprising A$1.2bn in callable capital and almost A$475mn in cash capital.
Speak at the introduction of the bill on February 13, assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment, Mark Coulton, said: “A larger capital base will allow Efic to provide more commercially meaningful financing offers, given that the total size of debt financing required for regional infrastructure projects is large, and also to support Australian exporters more broadly.”
Coulton also used his speech to reference the benefits the expanded mandate could have on Australia’s SME industry, stating: “Efic will continue to be required to maximise Australian participation in overseas infrastructure projects. Efic will continue to be required to ensure Australian companies, especially SMEs, have every opportunity to expand into overseas markets.”
The bill also includes a new name for the agency — Export Finance Australia — to represent its international outlook.
The bill’s initial text highlights opportunities to invest in overseas infrastructure, such as telecommunications, energy, transport and water, throughout the Pacific region and further afield.
More specifically, the bill notes that the additional capital would allow the agency to continue to finance infrastructure projects in Papua New Guinea, which it described as “one of our most important neighbours”.
Efic is currently involved in the PNG LNG project, a US$19bn investment scheme for the commercial development of the gas resources of Papua New Guinea. However, on its current budget, Efic is re-approaching its country lending limit for the southwestern Pacific island nation and it is only able to finance one additional project.
Under its proposed new mandate, Efic will complement the government’s newly-signed Australian infrastructure financing facility for the Pacific (AIFFP), which can offer loans for infrastructure projects across the region.
The A$2bn infrastructure initiative — first revealed in November 2018 — aims to bolster Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste. The AIFFP will use grant funding combined with loans to support the development of ‘high-priority infrastructure’. The facility will be operational by July 2019 and is managed by the department of foreign affairs and trade.
The new Efic legislation, known as the support for infrastructure financing bill, was introduced on February 13 and passed its second reading on February 20. The bill has now been referred to the senate foreign affairs, defence and trade legislation committee, which will produce a report by March 26.
The bill needs to be passed by the house of representative and the senate in identical form for it to become law. The senate is due to sit for two days from April 2.
The legislation was first referenced in the Liberal-National government’s 2017 foreign policy whitepaper and forms part of the government’s package of widescale security and economic initiatives that will see it take a more active role in the Pacific region’s development.
In 2017 and 2018 Efic supported 160 Australian businesses with financing worth A$194mn, enabling A$1.39bn of export contracts, which in turn contributed to A$1.15bn of Australia’s GDP and supported 7,600 jobs in the country.