The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is eyeing a new wave of expansion into sub-Saharan Africa and new parts of the Middle East in the coming years that could raise its lending by as much as a third, its president told Reuters.
Set up in 1991 to invest in the ex-communist economies of Eastern Europe and owned mainly by big Western governments, the EBRD has been rapidly expanding over the last decade to operate in more than 30 countries from Morocco to Mongolia.
But with capital still abundant, the bank is looking to advance further south and plans to get the ball rolling when its shareholders gather in Jordan next month for their annual meeting.
Suma Chakrabarti, who has led the EBRD for six years, said there would no decision made at the upcoming meeting on the expansion but said he aimed to kick off the discussion.
New countries of operation would have to be democracies or at least committed to becoming a democracy, and they must also aim for the kind of market-based economies that the development bank has always focused its efforts on.
If shareholders give the nod next month, it would take around a year of analysis on what would be required financially, he added. If that all works out, the final green light could then be given at its 2020 annual meeting.
The move would represent the latest evolution from the EBRD’s post-Soviet era roots and come as Cold War-style tensions between the EBRD’s main Western shareholders and Russia for a long time the bank’s largest market are rising.
Having already stopped new investments in Russia in 2014, Chakrabarti said there was no talk of any further punitive measures following the recent ratcheting up of U.S. sanctions.
The bank has no exposure to any of the entities targeted by the latest sanctions, he added.
The plan to move deeper into Africa meanwhile could dovetail with going into more countries in the north of the continent such as Algeria, or in the Middle East such as Iraq or Libya.
The overall expansion could see its annual lending jump by almost a third from around 9.5 billion euros ($11.7 billion) at the moment.