How to Build Up a Region: Development Banks and Multilateral Financing


Although many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are currently experiencing a period of economic slowdown that is expected to continue in the near future, there is a consensus by policy-makers that significantly improving the region’s infrastructure must remain a priority. Statistics demonstrate that infrastructure is at the core of economic development by increasing productivity, facilitating transportation, fostering mobility and generally enabling competitiveness. Moreover, infrastructure investment can also play an important role in countercyclical fiscal policy. Standard and Poor’s has estimated that an increase in infrastructure spending equivalent to 1 per cent of GDP in the region would generate 900,000 jobs in Brazil over a three-year period and increase its economy by 2.5 per cent.[1] In Mexico, this scenario would result in the gain of 250,000 jobs and GDP expansion of 1.3 per cent.[2] The quantity and quality of infrastructure in Latin America has vast room for improvement, with a yearly investment gap estimated to be between US$120 and US$150 billion a year.[3]

Historically, multilateral development banks (MDBs) have been primary sources of financing for infrastructure development efforts in Latin America. Undoubtedly, these institutions will continue to play a key role as finance engines for the region’s development agenda. They are especially well suited for this task given their ability to manage risk, provide know-how, and fund up-front and long-term costs of large-scale projects. However, the financial resources available to the traditional MDBs may not be sufficient to achieve the much-needed improvements to the region’s infrastructure.

This chapter is intended to provide the reader with a brief overview of the discernible trends of MDB activity in the region. In the first section, we provide a brief overview of the new landscape of institutions that are expected to have an impact on development finance in Latin America, discussing the BRICS[4] New Development Bank (NDB) and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This section also offers an overview of activities by the traditional players, discussing relatively new instruments and reforms implemented by the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the Inter-American Investment Corporation, as well as the opportunities they may present. The next section examines sector trends from the perspective of Latin American practitioners with a deep understanding of the market and its tendencies. Finally, the last section is a brief conclusion that summarises the developments identified in the article.

The new landscape of financing institutions and activity by established actors

A notable trend is the emergence of institutions that are carving out a new space within the field of global development finance. These players are part of a broader movement of decentralisation in development finance and an increase in South-South cooperation. In particular, the new multilateral development banks NDB and AIIB promise to be relevant players in Latin America in the future. Both institutions have a strong Chinese influence. However, the traditional multilateral financial institutions continue to represent the bulk of investment in the region, a fact that is likely to remain true for the near future.

BRICS’ New Development Bank

In July 2015, the BRICS countries formed the NDB with the purpose of ‘mobilising resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging and developing economies’, and to supplement the financing efforts of existing multilateral and regional institutions.[5] With an annual estimated global infrastructure gap of about US$1 trillion, creating new financing opportunities for infrastructure projects is crucial for emerging and developing countries and the emergence of the NDB is a welcome addition to the development finance arena.[6]

The subscribed capital of the NDB is US$50 billion, with each of the BRICS signatories contributing US$10 billion.[7] This capital base will be used to finance projects within the BRICS countries initially, but other developing countries will eventually be able to seek NDB funding.[8]

BRICS collectively account for 53 per cent of the world’s population and 23.1 per cent of its GDP.[9] However, despite recent advances to give more weight to BRICS, their pace of economic growth has consistently outperformed BRICS’ influence in long-established institutions.[10] The NDB is meant to reflect a new geopolitical balance that is vastly different from the post-World War II setting during which many project finance institutions were created.

The NDB is a reflection of the ambition of its founders to assert their place in a new global financial structure. However, its founding documents specifically provide for cooperation with Bretton Woods institutions. The expansion of South-South cooperation constitutes a new layer of economic engagement that supplements the existing framework of project funding, rather than standing opposed to it.

Although many BRICS are coping with moderate to severe economic recessions, the Bank seems to be moving forward, creating a space for itself in Latin America. Recently, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) and the NDB met in Washington, DC to discuss ‘aligned interests’ and explore ‘possibilities for mutual cooperation.’[11] Moreover, the NDB also announced a plan to expand its base and to allow other countries to join as members.[12] Latin American members are expected to take a significant interest in this new source of funding.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

The second major initiative led by emerging economies is the AIIB. The Chinese government’s proposal to create a new lending institution gained momentum in 2014, and the AIIB’s articles of agreement entered into force in December 2015.[13] There are 57 founding members, including many non-Asian countries such as Brazil, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The AIIB’s stated goal is to ‘complement and cooperate with the existing MDBs to jointly address the daunting infrastructure needs in Asia.’[14] Nonetheless, there have been recent indications of investment interest in the Latin America region, signalling a shift from its original regional focus. In June 2016, during the opening ceremony of the first annual meeting in Beijing, China’s Finance Minister gave assurances that although Brazil is currently the only Latin American member, other countries in the region ‘will be members very soon.’[15] He also noted that ‘[g]iven the increasingly close relationship between Asia and Latin America, we will not be short of projects to finance.’[16] The Latin American countries applying for AIIB membership include Chile, Colombia and Venezuela.[17]

The common thread among the NDB and AIIB is, undoubtedly, the Chinese interest in establishing its presence in the multilateral banking space. Despite its present stagnant economic growth, China has considerable national savings including approximately US$3.2 trillion in currency reserves, a significant portion of which is held in US government bonds.[18] As the second largest economy in the world, the Chinese appear intent on putting their economic prowess to use by collaborating with emerging and developing economies, and have taken a special interest in Latin America. This is further evidenced by China’s commitment to finance projects in the region through its national policy banks (China Development Bank and China Ex-Im Bank), which surpassed the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank lending to Latin America in 2015.[19] Infrastructure is a suitable asset for long-term investment, and improvements to the region’s development will be sure to positively impact the deepening Sino-Latin America economic relationship.

Activity by established actors: instruments and reforms that afford new opportunity

Certainly, the NDB and AIIB will not displace the most important financial institutions that promote development of Latin American countries. These organisations have long focused on development in the region and have proven to be dependable sources of medium and long-term funding for infrastructure, social development projects and climate change mitigation.

Local practitioners consistently identify the following institutions to be the most active in the region: International Finance Corporation (IFC), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC), Latin American Export Bank to Foreign Trade Bank of Latin America (more commonly known as Bladex) and CAF.

Latin American countries are frequently among those with the highest MDB exposure, in particular with respect to the World Bank Group institutions including the IFC. Moreveover, the IDB continues to be the main source of regional multilateral financing in Latin America. These organisations have developed programmes and have modified their operations in ways that may present new opportunities for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Some of these initiatives are discussed in detail below.

The World Bank’s reforms to its operational framework on guarantees

Loan guarantees are not a new activity to MDBs. In fact, when the World Bank was initially created in 1944, guaranteeing repayment of commercial loans taken by member governments was expected to be the Bank’s primary task, an expectation that was quickly overtaken by direct lending.[20] Guarantees diversify financing options and present various advantages to sovereign borrowers, including the mobilisation of private financing sources for large-scale projects on better lending terms. However, despite this potential, project guarantees have historically underperformed in MDBs. The World Bank recently set out to address some of the concerns that have hindered guarantee usage by undertaking a complete overhaul of its policy framework addressing these instruments.[21] These new policies have been in effect since 1 July 2014, and present a new set of opportunities for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The 2014 reforms introduced various important changes to the prior guarantee programme, moving away from previously defined structures and making all forms of project-based guarantees available to World Bank member countries that meet relevant economic criteria. Specifically, the new policy differentiates guarantees only by the nature of the risks that they aim to address. Moreover, the Bank no longer excludes International Development Association members – the world’s poorest developing countries – from participation in certain guarantee programmes, except those under a high risk of debt distress.

Perhaps one of the most significant modifications to the project guarantee programme of the World Bank, and perhaps one that may draw substantial attention from Latin American countries, is the change to the scope of bank guarantees, which has now been extended to cover payment defaults of non-loan related government payment obligations under certain conditions. These guarantees can now be extended to both private and public entities subject to the following considerations and limitations: (1) payment guarantees must facilitate investment and have the same clear development objectives under the same policy conditions that apply to traditional loans; (2) guarantees must have an adequate dispute resolution framework in place that ensures the Bank will not be entangled in the substance of a dispute;(3) guarantees cannot be made to support bilateral debt or debt extended by publicly owned entities that operate for public purposes; and (4) guarantees may not be issued to a member country under payment arrears to the Bank.

The World Bank’s new guarantee programme supports collaboration with the private sector, an important component for development in Latin America, especially as the region continues to embrace public-private partnerships as an alternative financing method for infrastructure projects. Latin America is not a homogenous economic market and the ability for countries in the region to effectively access private funding varies greatly. The World Bank’s guarantee programme addresses this situation by covering the risk that may deter investors when considering infrastructure investements in these emerging economies and may prove useful to those countries re-entering the world’s markets following periods of turmoil.

In this respect, the World Bank’s guarantee programme’s risk mitigation purpose may be particularly relevant for Venezuela and Bolivia, as they are currently facing economic uncertainty, and where private investors may have financial performance concerns.

Argentina recently participated in the World Bank’s modified guarantee programme when it launched a public auction initiative for 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy under a project called ‘RenovAR’.[22] This project includes the establishment of a public trust fund for the development of renewables called ‘FODER,’ which has been put in place to boost investor confidence. The World Bank will guarantee obligations of the FODER trust fund for contract payments to project developers. The amount of the Bank’s guarantee is based on the total contracted capacity at a rate of US$500,000 per megawatt. The cost of maintenance for this guarantee is assumed for each project based on the contracted capacity for the particular project. This marks the first project in Argentina under the new administration’s aggressive renewable energy programme, which aims to reach 20 per cent green energy usage by 2025.

The World Bank’s guarantee programme allows a requesting country to tap into US capital markets, as well as yen and euro markets, a tool that Latin American and Caribbean countries would benefit greatly from. With a streamlined process that is clearer to both staff members and clients, the operational limitations of the prior programme have been addressed to incentivise guarantee utilisation. The Bank’s unprecedented growth of its proposed guarantee pipeline has dozens of potential projects under consideration, a fact that suggests that these products address real needs in the relevant emerging markets.

IFC’s Distressed Asset Relief Program

A strong financial sector is key to ensure Latin America’s continued path to economic development. This task requires a multidimensional approach that establishes investor confidence and credit opportunities for businesses in the region. Although current levels of non-performing loans (NPLs) remain stable, there is an expectation that the share of NPLs will increase as a result of the general recession that several Latin American countries are currently experiencing.[23] Commodity prices, in particular those of oil, have had a deep impact on the region’s economic performance. NPLs have detrimental effects on both the public and private financial sectors by decreasing liquidity and overburdening financial institutions.

The IFC has considerable experience in this field at the global and regional level. In 2009, IFC launched the Distressed Asset Relief Program (DARP) to address the difficulties that businesses in emerging markets were facing in managing debt as a result of the global financial crisis.[24] Its stated focus is the acquisition and resolution of NPLs, the refinancing of viable emerging market entities and restructuring of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).[25] By 2012, DARP had evolved from a crisis response initiative to a consolidated business product.[26] The programme directly invests in businesses that require assistance and indirectly invests by participating in funds that target pools of distressed assets and companies.

DARP has experienced substantial success in restoring companies back to health and providing assistance to various financial systems. Until now, it has invested a total in excess of US$4 billion in distressed assets in emerging markets, including US$1 billion from its own account and US$3.2 billion mobilised from investors.[27]

Recently, the IFC disclosed its intent to establish an investment platform in Central America and the Caribbean, alongside Mexican servicer Proyectos Adamantine, to support the acquisition and resolution of NPL portfolios consisting of mortgage and consumer loans.[28] The project will afford local banks the opportunity to offload NPLs from their balance sheets through market-based mechanisms. The aim is to improve liquidity and free up resources, thus creating credit opportunities in the region. This platform is dedicated to acquiring and servicing non-performing mortgage and consumer loans in Central America and the Caribbean. The total cost of the project is estimated at US$150 million.

The IFC’s role in this project includes market support, capital funding, investor mobilisation, assisting in market development and providing sector and structuring expertise. This model will create new opportunities for divestment of distressed assets in these emerging markets, by increasing liquidity and leveraging private sector investment.

IIC restructuring: a new streamlined process for private sector interaction with the IDB

In January 2016, the IDB Group consolidated its private sector operations in the IIC with the goal of maximising the development impact of private sector activities, increasing efficiency and improving coordination with public sector projects.[29] The unified IIC offers the full array of private-sector products and services previously offered across four separate IDB Group wings. The IIC’s focus will remain on lending, equity investments and advisory services to SMEs from an integrated perspective that will offer faster processing times and a single point of access to the products available to the private sector through this institution.

As the largest regional development bank and a main source of development finance in Latin America and the Caribbean, the restructuring of IDB institutions is significant for the region. The IIC merger comes with a US$2.03 billion increase in the institution’s capital stock, US$1.3 billion of which consists of new contributions by member countries payable over seven years with the remainder to be transferred from the IDB starting in 2018.[30] The IIC expects that through this capital increase, it will be able to mobilise more resources, aiming to finance US$34 billion worth of projects in Latin American in the next 10 years, with an expectation that twice that amount of funding will come from the organisation’s strategic partners.[31]

Some of the newly adopted goals of the consolidated operations may present areas of opportunity for private investment in Latin America. First, the IDB and IIC have endorsed the objective of increasing the volume of climate-related financing to 30 per cent of the IDB’s and IIC’s combined operational approvals by the end of 2020.[32] With this policy, these entities seek to address the climate investment needs in Latin American and Caribbean region, which have been estimated at US$75 to US$80 billion per year between 2020 and 2030.[33] This may instill motivation in countries seeking to implement an agenda that addresses climate mitigation concerns by means of private-sector investment.

Secondly, IIC also plans to implement modifications of the manner in which it interacts with SMEs in the region by increasing interaction with local financial institutions, such as by backing more debt issuances or co-financing equity purchases of SMEs with banks. This effort is of particular importance as SMEs account for nearly 90 per cent of all businesses in Latin America, and there is a growing need for financing products and services to tend to these businesses. According to the IIC, the financing gap for those SMEs is between US$210 billion and US$250 billion.[34] A recent IIC survey also showed that 44 per cent of banks in Latin America acknowledge that their financial products are inadequate to serve the SME market, an issue that the International Chamber of Commerce aims to address.[35]

The expanded IIC’s goal is to approve up to US$2.9 billion in its first year of merged activities.[36] Although there may be an initial slowdown of investment activity as the IIC settles into its new structure, there should be great optimism surrounding this merger, which promises to offer highly specialised financial solutions as well as non-financial and knowledge products to continue development efforts through the growing private sector in the region.

Sector and country trends[37]

Below is a summary of relevant trends in some of the countries in Latin America, with a brief, non-exhaustive discussion of some of the most active countries in the region.

Renewable energy projects

Multilateral organisations continue to be active in the renewable energy sector in Latin America. It is estimated that Latin America will need almost twice its current power capacity by 2030 to meet the region’s demand.[38] For example, in 2015, the IIC approved four renewable energy projects totaling an investment of US$27.89 million in the region.[39] It also entered a new sector by funding its first solar-power transaction in Panama with a US$11.9 million loan.[40] In 2016, the movement toward green investment has continued, with the bank approving loans for four solar farms located in Uruguay, Chile and El Salvador and funding one Uruguayan wind farm.[41] Certainly, projects of this magnitude could not be achieved without the substantial backing of MDBs.


In Argentina, the administration of President Macri has pledged to prioritise infrastructure spending as part of the overall economic policy changes recently implemented.[42] Local practitioner Alan Arntsen from Perez Alati, Grondona, Benites, Arntsen & Martinez de Hoz has noted that there is a good disposition by the government to ensure legal protection of foreign investors in the country. With legislative elections in October 2017, there is also substantial pressure to deliver palpable results to the Argentinian population or risk losing additional congressional seats. Accordingly, Macri has promised to launch ‘the most important infrastructure programme in [Argentina’s] history – ports, energy, trains, waterways’.[43] Stating his intent to ‘double food production in the next five years’, agribusiness will also be a source of interest.[44] Energy self-sufficiency is also an additional government goal, with Arntsen predicting that the prime conditions for wind energy of the Patagonian region and favourable solar radiation conditions in the northwestern section of the country will be areas of interest for investors and MDBs.

Moreover, the Argentine Congress is reviewing a bill revamping the country’s public-private partnership (PPP) framework. This new scheme is perceived as an opportunity to help address the country’s existing infrastructure deficit and to attract banks and multilateral lending agencies to provide funding for public works.[45]

CAF has been active during prior administrations and is expected to continue to be active across the various sectors described above. Additionally, following a period of lesser activity, the IFC has taken on a renewed interest in Argentina by tripling its investment in the country following President Macri’s economic reforms.[46]

Central America

In Central America, where electricity matrices still rely heavily on fossil fuels, we expect continued development in the renewable energy sector. This is particularly relevant given the disparity of energy sources among countries. David Gutierrez and Julio Castellanos, from BLP, discern a regional trend toward fiscal incentives, technology specific auctions and preferential grid access to incentivise renewable energy production. All segments of clean energy development (solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal) are expected to remain active for the foreseeable future. Mr Castellanos has also noted that there has been much recent interest in large solar, wind and ‘rooftop’ solar projects in this area. Regional access to gas (including distribution lines) and the consolidation of the regional electricity market are key projects that are anticipated to generate interest and attention in the region. PPP structures have become commonplace and should be expected to continue to figure prominently as financing alternatives for banking institutions in the region. However, there is a lack of PPP frameworks and this section requires further development in order to attract investment.


In Mexico, the emphasis on renewable energy from multilaterals continues, specifically in oil and gas midstream projects and other power related projects. However, there is also continued interest by multilaterals in other sectors, such as transportation and agricultural projects, which have garnered significant interest in this country. Miguel Ángel Mateo from Hogan Lovells identified the long-term electric energy, power and clean energy certificate auctions organised by the government as an area that has drawn attention and that will continue to attract interest from multilaterals and private institutions. Projects involving the modernisation of electricity transmission and distribution lines of the national electric system may also be examined by MDBs. The World Bank Group, Bladex, IDB and, to a lesser extent, the European Investment Bank are active organisations in this country and will likely continue to be key multilateral investors in the foreseeable future. Although PPP structures have been enacted in Mexico, these laws were only recently put into effect and need further elaboration and structure. Nonetheless, these regimes have been used to develop small-scale projects such as schools and hospitals. Practitioners expect these frameworks to become a common vehicle for development for roads and hydroelectric projects in Mexico.


In Colombia, discussions surrounding the 4G road projects continue to dominate the arena. These projects have been facilitated through a PPP structure with participation by the federal government in conjunction with local, international and multilateral banks. In addition, investors and developers are now turning their attention to the projects that may follow from the continued discussions to institute a peace deal that would dismantle the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army rebel group after 52 years of war. A new pact may include provisions for modernising Colombia’s poor countryside by improving its infrastructure and building low-cost housing projects, as such stipulations were made in the pact that was recently rejected by the voters. Projects such as these will surely require multilateral participation in the form of funding and expertise. In the past, the IFC and CAF have collaborated to provide funding to Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional, which is the public agency charged with promoting infrastructure financing. Some expect these and other institutions to continue to seek involvement in such projects in the future.


For Brazil, the political turmoil and economic recession experienced in the past two years has had a deep impact on the country’s investment in infrastructure projects and logistics. With President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, power was transferred to Michel Temer in August 2016, ending a period of political fragmentation. The market’s initial reaction to the change in administration has been positively marked by a slight increase in the stock value of some companies. Pedro Aguiar de Freitas, from Veirano Advogados, commented that President Temer is expected to implement business-friendly policies that foster PPP investments in infrastructure and logistics. ‘We expect changes in the rules applicable to public bidding procedures, to make them more efficient and transparent, as well as changes in the labour law to increase flexibility and less red tape for licensing to stimulate private investment and growth,’ Mr Aguiar de Freitas stated. He also expressed some anticipation as to the involvement of the NDB in Brazil, foreseeing the possibility of cooperation between Brazil and this new MDB.

Traditionally, the projects financed by multilaterals in Brazil are mostly in infrastructure sectors that contribute to sustainable development, such as: renewable energy, transportation (urban mobility and roads) and sanitation. This activity and sector focus is expected to continue. Notwithstanding, new investments in the gas and electricity sectors are also expected to continue to garner interest.


In addition to the new MDB entrants, multilateral development banks will continue to fulfill an important role in the development efforts of Latin American and Caribbean countries. The efforts of institutions like the World Bank Group, CAF, IDB and various others, not just in providing financing resources, but also in mitigating risk, attracting private investment, establishing policy frameworks and bringing in skills and information, is sure to continue to be a driving force of the development agenda of this region.


  2. Idem.
  4. 'BRICS’ is the acronym referring to the coalition of the world’s largest emerging economies, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
  5. Sixth BRICS Summit – Fortaleza Declaration, available at
  6. Global Infrastructure Facility, available at
  7. See Sixth BRICS Summit – Fortaleza Declaration at footnote 6.
  14. Idem.
  16. Idem.
  17. Idem.
  26. Idem.
  30. Idem.
  33. Idem.
  37. We are grateful for the contributions of the practitioners who provided insightful observations about multilateral activity in the region. We extend our gratitude to Alan Arntsen, Perez Alati, Grondona, Benites, Arntsen & Martinez de Hoz; Mayuca C Salazar, Hogan Lovells; Pablo Jose Torretta, Estudio Beccar Varela; Pedro Aguiar de Freitas, Veirano Advogados; Miguel Ángel Mateo, Hogan Lovells; Carlos Vouga and Rodolfo G Vouga, Vouga Abogados; Luis R Pellerano and Joanna M. Bonnelly, Pellerano & Herrera; Zygmunt Brett, Arias & Muñoz; Carlos Pinto, FERRERE; David Gutierrez and Julio Castellanos, BLP; Bruno Ciuffetelli, Hogan Lovells; and Silvia Otero, Posse Herrera Ruiz.
  39. Idem.
  40. Idem.
  43. Idem.
  44. Idem.

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