Monday, September 5, 2011

On the Import-Export Bank

A pet peeve of mine.

Cato:
The current cap on lending is $100 billion, with over $75 billion in total loans currently outstanding.6

[...]It is worth noting from the outset that the “dual mandate” of the bank—to finance only transactions that the private sector deems too risky, but to lend only when a reasonable chance of repayment exists—is inherently contradictory.

[...]It puts special emphasis on supporting “environmentally beneficial exports,” particularly renewable energy projects, and has engaged in picking winners by identifying certain industries as having “high potential for export growth.”8

[...]As a senior official at the General Accounting Office has testified, Government
export finance assistance programs may largely shift production among sectors within the economy rather than raise the overall level of employment in the economy.”18

[...]Second, the bank typically has made its loans, guarantees, and insurance to countries such as South Korea, China, Mexico, and Brazil—countries that have had little difficulty in attracting private investment on their own. Indeed, the bank’s relatively low default rate (less than 2 percent in 2010)39 suggests it is making
loans to creditworthy countries, which again raises the question of why we need an Ex-Im Bank to finance safe transactions that should be left to the private sector.

[...]In FY2010, the Ex-Im Bank offered over $300 million worth of loan guarantees to the United Arab Emirates (with a total exposure worth $3.6 billion) to buy aircraft.40

[...]For example, as noted above, the bank places limits on the amount of foreign
content in exports it supports. Any Ex-Im Bank–supported transaction worth more than
$20 million must be transported on a U.S.-flagged ship—a hidden subsidy to protected
shippers. As the CEE points out: “Today, an extremely limited number of U.S.-flag ‘break bulk’ carriers remain in operation, yielding transportation costs so high as to nullify the benefits of Ex-Im Bank financing.”

[...]First, it is no longer true that other rich countries subsidize their exporters at much higher levels than the United States. In fact, the United
States was the third-largest user, out of seven rich-country users, of medium- and long-term export credits when measured as a percentage of total merchandise exports in 2009, as Table 3 shows.

[...]The Ex-Im Bank has, however, occasionally stacked the deck against U.S. industries by subsidizing their foreign competitors. The support given to Mexico’s state-owned oil monopoly, Pemex—one of the top 10 beneficiaries of the Ex-Im Bank’s finance—is a questionable use of taxpayer dollars to say the least, and U.S.-based oil companies may be wondering why their competitors deserve support from a U.S. government agency.

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