The real effects of trade financing by ECAs

(Centre for Econonic Policy Research, London, 9 February 2024) Trade finance subsidies, usually provided by export credit agencies, are the predominant tool of industrial policy. This column discusses the effect of the effective shutdown of the US EXIM from 2015—2019 on firm outcomes. It finds that firms which previously relied on EXIM support saw a 18% drop in sales after the agency closed, driven by a reduction in exports. Firms affected by the shutdown also laid off employees and curtailed investment. Overall, export credit subsidies can boost exports even in countries with well-developed financial markets, without necessarily leading to a misallocation of resources. Exports are often seen as boosting economic growth. But exporting internationally requires upfront financing. Recognising this, around one hundred countries around the world have set up export credit agencies to provide subsidised trade financing to support their country’s exporters. Today, such subsidies are the predominant tool of industrial policy around the world, especially in advanced economies. In absolute terms, China, Germany, Korea, and the US spend the most on these programmes. The Scandinavian countries, as well as China and Korea, are among the heaviest users of export credit agency support relative to their exports as we show in panel B of Figure 1. To better understand the role of export credit agencies, we study the temporary shutdown of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) between 2015 and 2019, prompted by a lapse in its charter—a first since the agency's inception in 1945 – and lack of quorum on its board of directors. The shutdown resulted in an 80% drop in the volume of EXIM-supported transactions in 2016 compared to 2014. The volume of export credit support provided by EXIM only returned to pre-shutdown levels after the resumption of full operations in December 2019.