Pandemic, disasters, war: Michal Ron looks back on Berne Union Presidency

(Global Trade Review, London, 30 January 2023) Michal Ron was elected president of the Berne Union, the international association for the export credit insurance industry, at a particularly unstable time for global trade. In an exclusive interview with GTR, she looks back on her two-year term, which included major shocks to the trade credit insurance sector, beginning with a global pandemic and ending in war in Europe. "Starting with a global pandemic, it was already in one of the worst moments, during lockdown. Then we had a very high number of natural disasters… all a consequence of climate change. And then as if that wasn’t enough, we had the war in Ukraine, at the very heart of Europe. One of my objectives when I began was definitely inclusivity and giving a voice to the lesser-known emerging markets, that multilateralism approach... Another was climate. Climate for me was one of the biggest pillars of my presidency. We created a working group task force on climate that included not just members of the Berne Union, but also the banking sector, development finance institutions and multilaterals. So that has been extremely effective and helpful for those of us who are, to an extent, lagging behind in terms of transformation towards greener, renewable energy, the circular economy... I also opted for a geographical region as an area of focus, because of its potential, which is the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Not everyone exports to, or is active in, that continent. But this is still the area where the largest growth, both trade and GDP, per annum is forecast. It is a very complex, and we could say also a particularly challenging region to operate in... My biggest regret for this period was also on the multilateralism front. As a result of the Ukraine war, we had to suspend the membership of the Union for two countries, Russia and Belarus. It went against all my past ideology, in terms of professional conduct on export credit and because it goes against the apolitical nature of the Berne Union. It was the first time ever that members were suspended on a geopolitical basis. It was petitioned by many of the Berne Union members, and it became inevitable when the UN came out with a resolution last March, condemning both countries on the international front, and sanctions were introduced. GTR: The war has also caused major energy price hikes; do you think export credit agencies (ECAs) are going to play a bigger role in helping secure imports, like the recent deals Euler Hermes has guaranteed with Trafigura for German gas and strategic commodities imports? Ron: We call it a strategic import. It might have different names in different countries, but that’s what we’re looking at. It has become part of many ECAs’ portfolios and we are seeing the number increasing day by day... GTR: Does ECA support for gas potentially contradict some climate goals, especially for members of the Export Finance for Future, who have committed to phasing out support for fossil fuels? Ron: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. You have countries that are very adventurous in terms of climate change. Very few, but still some, have already declared a net-zero strategy already commencing on the first of January [2023]. But let’s not forget that so far we are talking about four ECAs... But then you have countries such as Germany, such as Italy, that have been very dependent on gas. This is clearly an issue that has internal contradictions in terms of what to do about public support for fossil fuels. We obviously have a situation where we need to take into account a gradual phasing out, rather than an abrupt one point in time. At the Berne Union we’re doing a lot of information-sharing seminars in order to learn from more adventurous and greener export credit agencies and companies, insurers: how they do it, how they got there, how are they using scientific criteria to monitor progress? We are, in parallel, grappling with the complexity of ensuring additional sources of energy. I think most of us will not go back to the worst offenders such as coal-based plants.