Stjórnmál og Stjórnsýsla (Dec 2008)

Private Sector Investments from Small States in Emerging Markets: Can International Financial Institutions Help Handle the Risks?

  • Hilmar Þór Hilmarsson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 4, no. 2
pp. 113 – 132


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The private sector plays an important role in the economic reconstruction of emerging market economies, and international financial institutions (IFIs) increasingly work in partnership with the private sector to increase economic growth and reduce poverty in those economies. IFIs, for example, offer: (i) equity financing and/or loans for private sector projects, (ii) investment guarantees against political risks (or non-commercial risks), (iii) technical assistance, and (iv) advisory services, etc. This article will briefly discuss the services that IFIs offer the private sector in emerging markets and cases in which these services could be useful for Icelandic companies. The institutions discussed are (i) the World Bank Group, (ii) the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), (iii) the Asian Development Bank (AsDB), (iv) the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and (v) the African Development Bank (AfDB). A few Icelandic firms already have plans for relatively large projects in emerging market economies, especially in the energy sector, some of them in countries that could be classified as being risky. The ongoing economic crisis in Iceland will make project financing in emerging markets more problematic than before and therefore investments in partnership with international financial institutions could be an option that Icelandic firms will increasingly need to consider if they intend to invest abroad. However, increased private sector and IFI partnerships will not happen without government action. Iceland is a member of only two of the above-mentioned IFIs: the World Bank Group and the EBRD. The decision for Iceland to become member of the AsDB, IDB and AfDB rests solely with the government. Further government inaction in this area could become an impediment for foreign direct investment from Iceland to emerging markets and increase risks when the Icelandic private sector invests in those economies. Unnecessary risks might not only hurt Icelandic companies but also put Iceland’s economy in jeopardy. This is especially the case with large energy investments with long repayment periods. In addition to the specific case of Iceland, the discussion in this article could also be relevant to other small states which do not have the same leverage as do large states in the event of a dispute with the host governments, making partnership with IFIs more feasible in emerging markets.