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U.S. trade finance chief: Export support is available

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EXIM President Reta Jo Lewis World Trade Center Delaware Lisa Blunt Rochester

EXIM President Reta Jo Lewis speaks during the World Trade Center Delaware program on March 27 while Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester listens. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – The COVID pandemic taught the world the importance of a strong supply chain as the disruption in production and distribution has lasted far longer than the actual health crisis.

It also kickstarted a focus on onshoring production, which will conversely also open new opportunities to export goods.

One entity that could help those looking to reach new foreign buyers is EXIM, or the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., which provides export financing to companies to cover costs connected to their overseas expansions.

EXIM President Reta Jo Lewis World Trade Center Delaware

About 50 business owners, bankers and trade representatives came to hear from EXIM President Reta Jo Lewis at the Wilmington event. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

On Monday, EXIM President Reta Jo Lewis visited Wilmington to speak to World Trade Center Delaware, the local office of the global network of trade consultants, along with U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), who helped arrange the visit.

“No support is too small for EXIM,” Lewis said, noting that it would lend just a few thousand dollars if needed. “EXIM is all about businesses – it doesn’t matter who they are – to lower the risk of selling internationally.”

Reauthorized by Congress in 2019, EXIM offers loan guarantees and export credit insurance that can help newer and smaller businesses tap into financing that they might otherwise be deemed too risky to receive by conventional standards. It was given a $135 billion appropriation to fund its programs.

By guaranteeing up to 90% of pre-export capital financing, connecting credit to foreign buyers of exported goods or offering short-term and medium-term export insurance, thereby protecting against potential non-payment by foreign customers, EXIM can allow banks to lend with fewer risks and exporters the money to find overseas buyers.

While one of Delaware’s EXIM recipients, Chemours, is a very large manufacturer, the average U.S. exporter has 19 employees, Lewis said. Other smaller beneficiaries in the state have included Georgetown airplane outfitter ALOFT AeroArchitects, New Castle agriscience company Arkion Life Sciences, and Wilmington food science company Bassett & Walker.

Lewis’ time in Wilmington – just before she was set to fly to Kenya to join Vice President Kamala Harris’s African delegation trip – was aimed at trying to sow more seeds of support for local companies, especially small and medium-sized ones.

“We have incredible small and large businesses here that could benefit from the resources of EXIM Bank, and that could help us to be able to unleash the competitive capacity that we have right here in our own state for our entire country,” Blunt Rochester said.

Speaking to about 50 people at the Hotel du Pont, Lewis noted that under its most recent reauthorization, EXIM was given some additional focuses, including small businesses, renewable energy, sub-Saharan Africa and 10 “transformational” export areas where the U.S. directly competes with China, such as artificial intelligence, biomedical, semiconductors, fintech and water treatment, among others.

EXIM has also refocused its efforts to get resources to women-owned and minority-owned businesses that have traditionally been neglected by conventional lenders – only about 25% of EXIM applicants are women.

“When I hear the story that women and small businesses are looking at using their own balance sheet, because they can’t get what they need from the bank … that’s where EXIM comes in,” Lewis said.

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