U.S. firms fear financing drought as trade bank deadline looms

Wed Jun 24, 2015 11:45am EDT
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By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A battle in Congress that could shut down the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank next week is already causing headaches for small exporters as they try to stop customers from defecting to foreign competitors and as export financing starts to freeze up.

If the 80-year-old export credit-provider loses its operating authority, its proponents argue that thousands of U.S. exporters will suffer and that Washington will lose international economic influence.

Its conservative Republican critics say private enterprise will fill the funding gap, calling the bank a source of "crony capitalism" and "corporate welfare" for big companies such as Boeing and General Electric.

But smaller firms may be the biggest initial victims if the bank has to stop operating.

Newport Beach, California-based Firm Green Inc, for example, fears it may lose its second major Philippines green energy project in a year to the uncertainty over Ex-Im's future.

Last year, it was beaten to a landfill gas deal by a South Korean firm with export credit agency financing as Congress debated the same issues. Now, FirmGreen president Steve Wilburn said he is now trying to persuade the developers of the Philippines' biggest-ever solar power plant to stick with his Ex-Im-backed design and construction proposal.

But he says time is running out to keep the $203 million, 100-megawatt project from going to China's Trina Solar Ltd as an August construction launch date looms.

"We are promising that Ex-Im will be reauthorized and that financing will be available," said Wilburn, whose firm has 11 employees and contracts out its manufacturing work. "Foreign ECAs (export credit agencies) and their supported manufacturers are champing at the bit to feast on FirmGreen's bones."   Continued...

U.S. Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg in Washington June 3, 2015.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst