Traders have not been cut off from credit as yet
The global credit crisis has driven up the cost of financing trade shipments sharply, prompting the World Trade Organisation to convene a summit to counter the threat to international commerce.
Although officials stress that traders have not been cut off from credit as yet, there has been a rapid increase in credit charges in recent months, particularly involving countries such as Brazil and Russia.
One trade official said that the cost of trade finance, usually quite close to interbank interest rates, had risen to 300 basis points above, in some cases.
Brazil this week offered a blanket guarantee for all trade credit involving its companies ? a commitment of some $20bn (?15bn, £12bn) or one-tenth of its foreign exchange reserves, the official said.
Pascal Lamy, director-general of the WTO, told member countries on Friday he was calling a summit next month of the big trade finance banks including Citigroup, JPMorgan and HSBC, and the heads of official regional development banks which provide or underwrite trade credit.
?The financial crisis may be having an impact on developing country access to financing of imports and exports,? Mr Lamy said. ?Just this week Brazil brought this issue to the forefront?.
Trade finance, designed to ensure that exporters get paid, is traditionally among the safest of all commercial lending. It involves lending at short maturities ? the length of the shipping journey ? and uses the value of the cargo as collateral. But on top of the rise in the interest rates at which banks lend to each other, which sets the basis for the price of trade credit, some banks have been demanding insurance for trade involving companies in countries such as Russia.
?Banks appear to have mistaken country risk for company risk,? the trade official said.