For commodity traders involved in emerging markets – say, buying cotton in Africa and selling it to China – one of the biggest headaches since the financial crisis has been the tightening of trade finance terms by banks.
It has been harder to finance shipments of commodities as btanks, eager to reduce risk, have been reluctant to offer financing over long distances, or where there is a significant lag between the placement of an order by a customer and receipt of the goods.
Enter Maersk Line with a way round the problem.
Asia’s footprint in Africa’s commodity-rich economies has been growing, with Singapore-listed companies among the biggest investors.
Wilmar, the world’s largest refiner of palm oil, first moved into Africa in 2007 with a couple of palm oil refining joint ventures in Uganda and Ivory Coast. Africa is short of refined palm oil and Wilmar spotted an opportunity to fill that gap. Maersk, the Danish shipping line, says a significant proportion of the goods carried in ships from Singapore to Africa is refined palm oil.
Now Wilmar is expanding its African business to sugar.
Olam, the Asian agribusiness, is looking to test out an ambitious diversification plan in Africa. In a way, it shouldn’t be a surprise – Olam started in Africa as part of an Indian conglomerate producing cotton for Nigerian markets, before it began exporting agri-commodities, and eventually morphing into a fully fledged rubber-to-cashews business listed in Singapore.
It is in Africa where the company is looking to branch out into fertiliser plants, plantations and consumer goods, according to Ranveer Chauhan, managing director and regional head for Olam in Africa.