Africa: Non-Members in Africa to Gain From Brics Bank

Brics Summit leaders - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Michel Temer

Africa is eagerly waiting for the BRICS summit -- bringing together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- to endorse a proposal to allow non-members to gain access to the $50 billion New Development Bank for infrastructure and development loans.

This comes barely a year after the New Development Bank opened its first regional office, the Africa Regional Centre, in Johannesburg to identify and prepare projects to strengthen the bank's footprints throughout Africa.

"These first ever regional offices will seek to work closely with governments, the private sector and financial institutions on projects," said NDB president K.V Kamah.

For African countries, an alternative source of financing from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other development partners, would be a welcome opportunity in their pursuit of infrastructure development.

"BRICS leaders will explore how Africa can diversify and modernise its economies through infrastructure development, funding, knowledge exchange, increased access to technology, enhanced capacity-building and investment in human capital," said South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu ahead of the summit.

For African countries, getting access to funds from this bank could be easier than meeting the conditions of the Bretton Woods institutions given the recent push for closer ties between the BRICS countries and the continent.

For example, China is now the continent's biggest trading and development partner, with India following closely. Africa's share of foreign aid from Brazil, India and China combined is more than that from the US.

Already, the new bank has signed contracts with Chinese development banks, including the China Development Bank and China Construction Bank to fund multibillion-dollar projects in Africa.

China has increased its loans for energy and infrastructure projects in Africa to $8.8 billion in the past two years as it seeks to drive the continent's infrastructure agenda.

"We have seen a rise in loans from $3 billion in 2016 to $9 billion last year in the energy and infrastructure projects mostly being driven by policy lenders China Development Bank and China Exim Bank," said Kieran Whyte, head of energy, mining and infrastructure at South African law firm Baker McKenzie.

The report also shows that almost half of the $19 billion of China's outbound loans went to infrastructure projects on the continent in the past three years. The BRICS bank is also seeking private-sector involvement in pushing for infrastructure projects on the continent.

"If you look at our project list, the majority of our loans have been at the sovereign level, but we are working to have more private sector-driven projects. We have now set a target of 70-30, where 70 per cent of the projects funded will be in the public sector, funded through governments and sovereign entities, and the other 30 per cent will be through the private sector," said NDB chief finance officer Leslie Maasdorp.

In the past two years, NDB has approved $3.4 billion for over 13 projects, with $1.85 billion going to six projects in the roads, energy, agricultural development and railway sectors within its member countries.

Outside of China, the European Union and the US, India is Africa's fourth-largest trading partner. India's trade with the continent has increased fivefold in the past decade to reach $52 billion as of March last year.

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