OECD moves to "green" export credits

Governments agree to push forward work aimed at common environmental safeguards by 2002

Government officials from Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries have agreed actions to achieve better environmental management of national export credit guarantees by the end of 2001. The OECD export credit working party approved a six-point "action statement" at a meeting that ended in Paris on Friday.

Credit guarantees are widely provided by industrialised country governments to support exports, particularly to developing countries. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, a US NGO that monitors export credits, the total volume of this financial support quadrupled in the decade to 1996 to reach US$105bn (euros ), making it the single largest source of finance for large-scale infrastructure projects in the developing world.

Partly in response to an extensive NGO campaign for stronger environmental controls on national export credit agencies (ECAs), the OECD and the G8 group of industrialised nations both called in 1998 for common approaches or guidelines to be developed. The EU, whose member states account for the majority of OECD countries, had made several attempts previously to do this, none of which succeeded due to governments' reluctance to compromise in a competitive field.

The action plan agreed last week is worded in opaque diplomatic language but shows a "very clear re-endorsement of the political mandate" to come up with an agreed international framework, according to an OECD official. The working party agreed that countries would continue to develop procedures for assessing projects' environmental impacts, would share their experiences with other OECD members and would then explore ways to "synthesise common elements and best practices".

It also agreed to reach a consensus on refining a voluntary system set up last year for environmental information exchange for large projects, such as the controversial Ilisu dam in Turkey. Some OECD countries are pushing to make the information exchange mandatory. A deal on how to move forward is expected in April, the official said.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00. See also OECD's information page on export credits and a 1998 memorandum by the Environmental Defense Fund.

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