Italy’s export credit agency (ECA) Sace has guaranteed a €550mn facility from six lenders for energy trading giant Vitol, the latest in a slew of financing deals for traders backed by official export credit insurers.

Under the five-year deal, Vitol will boost its supplies of natural gas to Italy, which Sace says will support the country’s “national industrial needs” and contribute to growing Italian exports.

The financing was arranged by SMBC, with Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, Santander, Société Générale and UniCredit acting as lenders.

Sace says the deal is a “strategic import transaction” under its Push Strategy, which aims to support Italian suppliers’ access to international markets by targeting large foreign buyers.

Sace has previously struck a similar deal with Trafigura covering the import of metals, also arranged by SMBC, and facility for Mercuria, closed in June, also to support gas imports.

Other ECAS, such as Euler Hermes in Germany and the US Export-Import Bank, have backed lending to commodity traders since 2022, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered a scramble for reliable sources of gas, some metals and other key commodities.

“We are very proud of this operation which… gives Italian companies access to raw materials that are fundamental for the continuity of their activities in Italy and abroad,” says Michal Ron, Sace’s chief international business officer.

“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.”

Sace has been criticised by environmental activists for continuing to channel investment to the gas sector, except for new unabated power generation, despite previously pledging to phase out support along with the rest of the Export Finance for Future alliance of ECAs. Sace says it will put an end date on its backing when the EU finalizes its sustainable finance taxonomy.

Clifford Chance acted as counsel for SMBC and Sace.