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Iherijika: Bank mulls six to 10 business financing proposals

by Dawne Parris
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The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) is poised to announce financing agreements with several private sector companies in Barbados in the coming days, Barbados TODAY has learned.

Okechukwu Ihejirika, acting chief operating officer of Afreximbank’s CARICOM office in Barbados, said proposals from six to 10 firms in hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing and renewable energy are under consideration.

The development marks the first direct effort at financing the Barbadian private sector – which Iherijika described as the bank’s “sweet spot” – since Afreximbank’s CARICOM office opened here with a $3 billion chest, the 30-year-old financier’s first foray across the Atlantic.

Announcements could come at the bank’s upcoming annual general meetings (AGMs) in The Bahamas next week, though Ihejirika declined to identify the companies involved as “they are bilateral deals”.

“Barbados has a lot of deals within the pipeline and… some announcements may be made even during the AGM,” he told Barbados TODAY.

While providing some government loans, including $50 million to upgrade Kensington Oval for the ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, Ihejirika said the bank’s focus was on the private sector.

“We support the public sector when the need arises but our sweet spot is more actually to work with the private sector who are the key engine room to development in countries. So those deals that we’re talking about now [in Barbados] would be with private sector institutions,” he said.

He suggested some financing solutions could be “new” to the Caribbean, having been developed for African markets with “similarities” in industrialisation needs.

“Some of the solutions we bring are maybe somehow new, because we feel the countries within this region and countries in Africa have similarities in the sense that there’s a lot of desire to have the countries industrialised, produce more and so on. So some of the solutions we created in Africa, we bring them here and they turn out to be instant solutions,” he said.

The Afreximbank official said smaller firms often struggled to access funding from traditional lenders, an area the bank aimed to address while working in partnership with domestic banks where possible.

“Most of them might not meet financing criteria of most of the traditional lenders in the region, so that means we need to create a solution that can facilitate support to them,” he said.

Ahead of opening its CARICOM office here last year, the bank approved $3 billion (US$1.5 billion) to support trade, infrastructure and small businesses across the region, with plans to double the figure. But Ihejirika stressed that Afreximbank had no intention of cornering the market in business lending and shutting out domestic banks.

“We partner with local banks as much as possible. We’re not competing with them,” he said. “Any deal they can do we are happy that they’re able to do it on their own, but where they require additional support they will see us as a partner who can work with them to make it happen.”

The export-import bank’s acting chief said several of the potential local deals under consideration were “very, very promising”, though he did not disclose details.

“As we progress, we are seeing new and innovative ideas come up,” Ihejirika added.

Since establishing its regional base in Barbados last August, Afreximbank has provided loans to several Caribbean governments, including the Mia Mottley administration.

In addition to the $50 million facility for Barbados hosting the T20 Cricket World Cup, the bank has been involved in financing trade-enabling infrastructure and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across other CARICOM states.

Afreximbank said it aims to boost development by enhancing trade and investment flows between Africa and the Caribbean.

The CARICOM office, located at the Trident Insurance Financial Centre in Hastings, serves as a hub for facilitating trade finance, risk-bearing services, and advisory support to foster economic cooperation between the two regions.

dawneparris@barbadostoday.bb

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