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China, United States Battle for Influence in African Infrastructure Lending

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New research from global law firm Baker McKenzie with data provider, IJGlobal, shows that development finance lending from state-backed institutions is the most important component of infrastructure funding in sub-Saharan Africa.

The battle for influence on the continent between Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) and Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) from China and the United States is set to heat up over the next decade in a fierce competition that could help the continent bridge its vast infrastructure gap more quickly than expected.

The report shows that survey respondents attribute the significance of DFI-lending in sub-Saharan Africa to the growing demand for infrastructure development (39%) and to the lack of availability of commercial funding for projects in the region, due to the perceived high risks associated with these investments (34%).  The report further  notes that China put US$8.7 billion in sub-Saharan Africa infrastructure projects in 2017 alone, while the US recently set up a new US$60 billion agency to invest in developing countries.

The report, ‘A Changing World: New trends in emerging market infrastructure, surveyed 434 executives from Export Credit Agencies (ECAs), Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), commercial banks and sponsors.

Wildu du Plessis, Head of Africa at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, notes that the infrastructure investment landscape in sub-Saharan Africa has changed beyond recognition in the past decade.

“The continent still suffers from massive under investment. According to African Development Bank (AfDB), poor infrastructure has cost the continent a cumulative 25% in growth in the last two decades. The World Bank estimates that the continent needs more than US$90 million per year to begin bridging the infrastructure gap. However, in many African countries governance has improved, which has accelerated growth and will make investment easier. Africa’s GDP is expected to grow to 3.7 per cent in 2019 and countries such as Ethiopia and Ghana, for example, have enjoyed some of the world’s fastest growth recently.”

The report shows how China has targeted sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, both in the context of its need for natural resources and as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Chinese policy banks loaned $19 billion to energy and infrastructure projects in the region from 2014-2017, almost half of which was in 2017. China Exim Bank was the largest policy lender in Africa in the period 2008 – 2017 and China Development Bank was the second largest bilateral investor in this period, lending nearly as much as World Bank-linked multilateral agency International Finance Corporation.

“Against a background of a global geopolitical shift in trade relations, China has noted that it is looking to work with African countries in a participative and inclusive way. Chinese president Xi Jinping’s tour of Africa earlier this year is proof of the increasing interdependence of the maturing but still fast growing Chinese economy and developing economies in Africa. The relationship is seen to be mutually beneficial, China needs natural resources and new markets for its exports, and Africa needs funding for infrastructure investment which China is providing,” notes du Plessis.

Despite the prominence of Chinese investment, the US is also seen as a major player in infrastructure investment in Africa. Some 32 % of survey respondents said that they expected US-based DFIs and Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) to be the most active lenders into African power projects – a critical part of infrastructure activity –  in the next ten years, while 29% of respondents said that they expected that China based DFIs and ECAs would be the most active in Africa in the next decade.

The US Power Africa programme reported recently that since its inception five years ago it has funded 80 transactions valued at more than US$14.5 billion that are now either online, under construction, or have reached final close. The programme remains fully funded.

Still, IJGlobal data shows that out of all DFI investment flowing into African power projects in the past ten years, Chinese lenders provided more than half of it (53%), followed by multilateral development finance institutions (22%). US-based DFIs only contributed 3% of the funding.

The report notes that the decision by the US in October to turn the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) into the International Development Finance Corporation and double its lending ceiling to $60 billion could significantly accelerate the race in Africa.

Du Plessis explains the reason for growing US lending in Africa, “The move is widely seen as a counter to Chinese largesse in Africa and other emerging markets.”

The report shows that the US is reportedly concerned about the security implications of China gaining control of strategic assets as a result of unsustainable borrowing by some developing countries. By increasing the flow of finance to Africa – and bolstering competition among DFIs – the new agency is likely to provide a boost to infrastructure activity in the region.

Yet despite the torrent of development finance lending from China, the US and others, sub-Saharan Africa’s infrastructure gap remains vast.

Jen Stolp, Global Head of Project Finance at Baker McKenzie highlights three priorities which are key to reducing the financing gap:  “First, a move away from traditional funding, and recognition that alternative structures and new financial instruments are needed; second, increased focus on project preparation funding and the creation of credible and predictable regulatory environments; and third, increased support for private equity investment.”

The report outlines how both global and regional DFIs are becoming more innovative as they seek to bridge the infrastructure gap. Recently the AfDB bought insurance on a $1 billion loan portfolio from hedge funds, reducing the amount of capital it holds against loans and freeing up lending capacity. Meanwhile, Afreximbank has introduced an African fund for export development to attract more private equity, and a project preparation facility (PPF) to address project development-related constraints.

“The way in which DFIs, ECAs and commercial banks interact is also changing, with a growing emphasis on partnerships, especially on larger projects,” says Stolp.

The survey shows that greater cooperation between DFIs/ECAs and commercial banks leads to more projects being financed and that 60% of survey respondents think there is room for even more collaboration on infrastructure financings. A further 24% note cooperation allows commercial banks to participate in deals too risky to do alone.

“Deals may be fronted by –  or may have tranches provided by –  DFIs,  thereby giving further support to commercial lenders,” agrees Baker McKenzie’s Global Head of Banking and Finance, Michael Foundethakis. “It’s important to remember that DFIs are able to go where commercial banks may fear to tread.”

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng

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Baker McKenzie Unveils Fighting Domestic Violence Comparative Law Tool

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Leading global law firm, Baker McKenzie, has launched its Fighting Domestic Violence global comparative law tool, which allows for a rapid analysis of national legislation measured against model domestic violence conventions and between countries.

Sponsored by Global Rights for Women and Every Woman Treaty, and together with over 500 volunteers from Baker McKenzie, Google, Merck, 3M, Cummins, HP Inc. and Accenture, Baker McKenzie has been working on an ambitious pro bono project to produce the most comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of domestic violence laws around the world, in 87 countries, including Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

The firm is making that content readily available to all individuals and organizations who can put it to good use in helping the victims of domestic violence.

European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, who gave the keynote speech at the virtual launch event, addressed the need for urgent change, “Violence against women and girls is a pervasive human rights violation.

In Europe, one woman in three aged 15 or above reported having experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence. One in 10 women reported having been victim to some form of sexual violence, and one in 20 had been raped.

Just over one in five women have suffered physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or previous partner, whilst 43% of women have experienced some form of psychologically abusive and/or controlling behaviour when in a relationship.” However, she added that, “Progress is possible and we must continue to work together tirelessly to achieve more.”

Baker McKenzie’s tool is designed to help local, national and international NGOs, and public and governmental authorities, assess the relative effectiveness of applicable laws and to identify where there is room for improvement.

To compile the tool, volunteers mapped local laws on domestic violence, and assessed law enforcement practices and related social protection and security measures with the aim of identifying any gaps between the status quo and the standards set in international and regional frameworks, such as the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention.

Speaking at the launch, Fiona Carlin, Partner and lead sponsor of the project at Baker McKenzie, said, “The issue of domestic violence is frighteningly prevalent in our society, and we wanted to help to stop the scourge.

“What was initially planned to be a modest project in parts of EMEA quickly evolved into a project covering over 85 countries, thanks to the tremendous response from our people and our clients.

“So many people gave up a substantial amount of their time because they knew this was an important cause and were committed to making a difference.

“The next phase of the project will see our teams engage with domestic violence specialists on the ground to better understand their needs and to ensure that the content that we make available is in a format that is as useful as possible in their daily work. By working together, we can bring about meaningful change.”

Angela Vigil, Partner and Executive Director of Baker McKenzie’s pro bono practice, added, “Our pro bono work is a core pillar of Baker McKenzie’s commitment to service as global citizens and to our Sustainability strategy.

“We are proud to collaborate with our clients on pro bono projects around the world that aim to protect and realize the rights of the most vulnerable in our societies. One such group, are the survivors of domestic violence.

“For many women, girls and others, the threat looms largest where they should feel safest – in their own homes and their intimate relationships. As femicide and related statistics show, their plight has worsened during the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions.

“Ultimately, the people who fight for this issue have been outnumbered and under-resourced. By lending our support and working together we can help some of the most vulnerable people in the world at a time when they need it most.”

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Putin Stresses Broadening Economic Cooperation with Nigeria, Others

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Ambassadors from Nigeria Africa Economic Cooperation

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated some aspects of Russia’s foreign policy agenda when he received letters of credence from 20 foreign ambassadors, including seven from Africa, who had arrived in the country to begin their duty tour.

The seven new African ambassadors are from the Republics of Angola, Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Mauritania and Somalia.

The ceremony formally marks the official beginning of the ambassadors’ duties in the Russian Federation, and it usually takes place twice a year in the St. Alexander Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace.

President Putin made concrete reference to his earlier speech delivered in November at the expanded meeting of the Foreign Ministry Board, in which he outlined the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy and gave a detailed overview of the current difficult international situation, as well as approaches to settling acute global and regional problems.

He has been consistently pursuing the idea that it is possible to effectively cope with the numerous challenges and threats only through joint efforts of the entire global community, that Russia was ready for such cooperation.

“In fact, I believe that without joining the efforts of all states, without establishing mutually beneficial and equal cooperation it will be impossible to address such difficult global problems and achieve success in fighting climate change, or countering terrorism and organized crime, or ensuring sustainable development,” the Russian leader stressed.

During his speech at the ceremony, Mr Putin said Russia was ready to raise economic cooperation including developing investment and deepening trade, as well as increasing humanitarian assistance to African countries.

Mr Putin told Ambassador Augusto da Silva Cunha from the Republic of Angola, that Russia has long friendly relations with Angola.

“What matters most is that, together with our Angolan friends, we intend to fully develop a comprehensive cooperation, to promote political dialogue and carry on joint work in trade, investment, and culture among other things,” he stated.

At the ceremony was Akambi Andre Okounlola-Biaou from the Republic of Benin. He was reminded that Russia continues expanding its interaction with the Benin Republic. Notably, it is currently drafting an intergovernmental agreement on military cooperation and a memorandum of understanding in the area of sport. Russian companies are interested in participating in joint geological prospecting, energy and infrastructure projects in Benin.

Ghana’s ambassador Lesley Akyaa Opoku-Ware is serving her second term in Moscow. Putin noted the steady development of the bilateral relations and pointed to efforts at expanding interaction in the field of trade and energy, including the peaceful nuclear development in that country.

“We jointly produce minerals and hydrocarbons. And, of course, we will continue to train professionals for various sectors of Ghana’s economy,” Mr Putin added.

With the Republic of Guinea, represented by the newly arrived Ambassador Maju Kake, Russia hopes that political life in this West African country will soon stabilize, and will attain a national accord. For many years, Russia has been offering substantial investment into the Guinean economy. Russian companies have been producing and processing mineral commodities in Guinea.

According to Mr Putin, it is now time to implement new interesting projects, including those in the sphere of energy, infrastructure, fisheries and agriculture.

Mr Abdullahi Yibaikwal Shehu is the new ambassador from the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Russia said it was satisfied with Nigeria as a key partner in Africa.

“We talked with President Muhammadu Buhari during the Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi two years ago. We hope that the Nigerian leadership will support Russia’s initiative to hold another meeting between the Russian and African leaders in 2022,” Mr Putin said.

The Russian leader added that, “As for specific areas of bilateral cooperation, we find an expansion of the detailed dialogue on topical problems related to supporting stability on the global hydrocarbon markets, countering terrorism and religious extremism, to be quite promising.”

At the ceremony, Mr Putin told Mohamed Mahmoud Dahi (Islamic Republic of Mauritania) that “There are favourable opportunities for expanding trade and economic ties with the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, including in the area of high-seas fisheries where we cooperate closely.” Russia, however, appreciates Mauritania’s substantial contribution to fighting terrorism in the Sahara-Sahel zone.

With Hassan Abdi Daud from Somalia located in the Horn of Africa, Mr Putin told him that Russia has advocated for expanded cooperation with the Federal Republic of Somalia.

Reports indicate that currently, Russian-Somali relations are at a very low level, with Russia having sent humanitarian aid to Somalia several times. That the Somalian Government is working actively to strengthen the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it is fighting terrorism and extremism, striving to create favourable conditions for the socio-economic revival. “We hope that all these efforts will be crowned with success,” asserted Putin.

The Russian President expressed hopes that with ambassadors’ active participation, these relations will be filled with new content, further hopes for mutually beneficial projects and useful initiatives and, in general, will make rapid progress for the benefit of the people and in the interests of international security and stability.

Due to the unfavourable pandemic situation, Kremlin still had to hold the ceremony for the newly arrived ambassadors to present their letters of credence in a strict and limited format.

At the start of the gathering, Mr Putin congratulated them on the official start of their diplomatic assignments in the Russian Federation. Russian authorities pledged to help and offer necessary assistance to all the foreign envoys in pursuit of their official assignments in the Russian Federation.

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Global Food Prices Remain at 10-Year High in November

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Global Food Prices

By Adedapo Adesanya

Food prices in the globe rose for a fourth straight month in November 2021 to remain at a 10-year high, led by strong demand for wheat and dairy products, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO’s Food Price Index, which measures the monthly change in the international price of cereal, dairy, meat, vegetable oils and sugar, jumped 1.6 points last month from the previous month to 134.4 points.

In its monthly report, the Rome-based agency noted that prices of cereals and dairy saw the sharpest gains, followed by sugar, while prices of meat and vegetable oils fell slightly in November from the previous month.

Inflation for essentials including food and energy has skyrocketed this year as a result of the recent supply-chain crisis and shortages as countries cast off COVID-19 induced restrictions.

Soaring food prices are hitting low-income households especially hard because higher prices for essentials like bread, meat, milk and rice eat up a larger share of their incomes.

The pain inflicted on consumers has placed central banks the world over in a tough position because higher interest rates help cool inflation, but they also risk denting fragile economic recoveries.

In the United States, the Federal Reserve has prioritised getting Americans back to work over reining in inflation. But with consumer price inflation accelerating at its fastest pace in 30 years in October, the US Fed Chief, Mr Jerome Powell said this week it was time to “retire” the word “transitory” when describing inflation as he signalled that the Fed could speed up the taper of its bond purchases. That in turn could pave the way for an interest rate hike sooner than expected.

According to the UN agency, cereal prices jumped 3.1 per cent in November on a monthly basis, and 23.2 per cent compared to the same period a year ago. Wheat prices have grown for five consecutive months and are now at their highest level since May 2011, due to harvest troubles in Australia linked to untimely rains and potential changes to the export policy in Russia.

Maize export prices also climbed in November, propped up by strong sales in Argentina, Brazil and Ukraine.

The dairy index rose 3.4 per cent on a monthly basis and was 19.1 per cent in November compared to a year ago, due to growing demand for milk and butter and depleted stock.

The FAO’s sugar price index averaged 120.7 points in November – 1.4 per cent higher than a month ago and a whopping 40 per cent higher than a year ago.

The meat index fell 0.9 per cent from October, dipping for a fourth consecutive month but still 17.6 per cent above what it was in November of last year. The reason for the slight decline is reduced purchases of pig meat by China, especially from the European Union.

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