IDB's infrastructure fund looks to build regional links

Jeddah-based bank aims to help Gulf companies to expand into Asia and Africa

A new infrastructure fund from the Islamic Development Bank aims to help Gulf-based companies expand in Asia and Africa, developing stronger economic ties among these regions.

Jeddah-based IDB is keen to grow trade among its 56 member countries and fill a void left by other multilateral and private-sector financial institutions that have been slow to support such regional strategies.

The fund could jump-start sluggish levels of trade across these markets, helping the IDB in its efforts to reach a target of 20 percent of intra-member trade by 2015 from about 17 percent now.

But more needs to be done to reach that target: Exports among IDB-member countries reached $343.7bn as of 2011, representing only 15.3 percent of total exports and a drop from the 17.3 percent recorded in 2009, the latest IDB data showed.

Three-quarters of those exports came from only 10 member countries, such as Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Nigeria, Egypt and Bangladesh ranked far lower, despite the significant opportunities in those markets.

Part of the problem is limited support from financial institutions in these regions, many lacking a regional presence of their own, a gap which the IDB fund could help fill.

IDB, which promotes economic development in Muslim countries and communities, has ramped up its development efforts after it more than tripled its authorised capital in 2012.

Building regional links would allow some Gulf-focused companies to reach a far broader customer base, said Mumtaz Khan, chief executive of Bahrain-based ASMA Capital Partners, which is managing the IDB fund.

"There are not that many institutions that have a footprint across these regions. Some companies are confined to a country or region. We are talking about taking them further afield," said Khan.

Both Gulf and Asian-based companies could build substantial market share in these new markets, said Khan, adding that the fund was looking at opportunities in Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The fund has $750m in commitments from shareholders Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Brunei, with plans to reach $2bn in size by next year, surpassing the original $730m fund launched in 2001.

In contrast to its predecessor, the new fund also has a special sector allocation to health, said Kahn, adding that the fund could deploy capital into its first project in the next two to three months.

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