November 11, 2013

International Countertrade With A Social Purpose


Global trader with a social cause in the making
By Melvin J. Howard

Circumstance has away of preparing you for life without you knowing it. For example when I was in College I got a job that was arranged by my alumni department head. It was working for a major defense contractor in their countertrade division. Little did I know at the time it would play a major roll in my life now? Countertrade is a term used for parallel business transactions, linking sellers and buyers in reciprocal commitments, which usually lie outside the realm of typical monetary trade. Some of the common forms of countertrade transactions include barter, counterpurchase, compensation, buyback, clearing arrangements, offset and switch trading. More than 10% of world trade today involves some form of countertrade.The World Trade Organization estimates that 15% or $8.43 billion  of the $5.62 trillion in international trade is conducted on a non-cash basis.

My mentor was a great teacher he was a Vice President of the defence firm I was working for. I was learning first hand how to do world trade not in the classroom but on the front lines. He took me under his wings and taught me the most basic and the most complicated forms of Trade.  Offsets–an umbrella term for a broad range of industrial and commercial compensation practices required of foreign suppliers under primarily government agency of state-owned enterprise acquisitions–were made a common requirement for the procurement of either military (e.g., fighter aircraft) or high-cost civilian hardware (e.g., commercial aircraft). Both defense and non-military offsets may entail overseas co-production of the procured item, as well as other economically beneficial transfers to the importing country that are not related to the original export. To assist their exporters some industrialized country governments also promoted countertrade under government agreements. For example, the French Ministry of Agriculture signed in 1989 an agreement with the USSR Council of Ministers which provided for exchanges of Soviet commodities for French agricultural and food processing equipment and technologies. Other Western governments, such as those of the United States, Canada, Belgium, Holland, the United Kingdom, and Italy, established special countertrade service units within public agencies to provide countertrade-related advisory assistance to their exporters. The French Government has supported instead the formation of a separate countertrade assistance entity in the private sector. The Swedish Government was until 1990 a major stockholder, through interests by the Swedish Investment Bank, in a private sector company involved in countertrade. Now with trade agreements like NAFTA in 1994, which integrate regional trade, based on free market principles some countertrade has abated somewhat.

International countertrade practices are now increasingly associated with bidding on major defense and non-military government procurement contracts and with project financing–a contract-based, off-balance-sheet finance technique whereby revenues generated from the output of the financed project are directly allocated to service outstanding debt and principal. A variation of the countertrade buy-back contract which links foreign contractors’ repayments to the output products of the production capacity they supplied, project financing relies instead mainly on contractual recourse to the project’s revenue streams. (According to the World Bank, developing countries are now spending around $200 billion a year on new infrastructure investment, one-fifth of their total investment.) High procurement costs and tighter budgets have prompted many emerging country governments in the 1990s to issue new civilian offset regulations (e.g., United Arab Emirates, Kuwait). Civil offset requirements, therefore, are increasingly acquiring a financing rationale in these markets. In a global environment of budgetary constraints, the ability of suppliers to meet offset requirements and/or to provide their clients with financial packages that can best those of competing bidders is a major competitive edge.

International trade in medical services will become increasingly more important. For ensuring quality, well-known medical facilities are likely to invest (commercial presence) in countries. Likely to be the destination of “consumption abroad” mode. Likely to be the supplier of patients mainly due to “poor quality” of medical care rather than the cost of care. International migration of foreign medical graduates will likely to be associated with commercial presence rather than traditional migration. New migration pattern will further encourage adoption of consumption abroad approach for reducing overall healthcare cost in both developed and low-income developing countries. Further expansion of consumption abroad will discourage purchase of expensive health insurance plans. In high medical care cost countries; international trade in health services will encourage purchase of catastrophic insurance plans. Health expenditure in the world in 2005 was about $4.8 trillion ($60 trillion was the global income) $4.0 trillion in OECD countries,  $800 billion in the remaining 160 countries of the world. Globalization has increased trading in health care services. Cost of international communication, travel has declined. Time lag has declined significantly and for electronic transfer of information, it has become almost zero (origin to destination). Cost of obtaining services of similar quality varies significantly among developing countries as well as between developing and developed countries of the world. There are types of medical care services that are extremely time sensitive. Waiting will rapidly reduce the benefit of treatment.

 The benefit function declines rapidly. If the time lag between the onset of the condition and reservation benefit level is shorter than the time needed to travel to a country, the service will be demanded locally. Worldwide, 1.3 billion people do not have access to effective and affordable health care. Low- and middle-income countries bear 93% of the world's disease burden, yet account for only 18% of world income and 11% of global health spending. What governance structures are necessary to encourage the right mix of public and private health care provision? What regulatory framework is needed to induce businesses to provide insurance, provision and finance for health in poor countries? How can the fruits of medical knowledge and technologies be shared among rich and poor countries without destroying incentives to generate more knowledge? What forms of international cooperation are conducive to the finance of health systems in developing countries? What international institutions are required to make health care for the poor an attractive opportunity for business? One thing is clear groups or individuals who think health care is static or promote the status-quo are sticking their heads in the sand. Recent economic conditions highlight the need for new sources of capital to be brought to bear on social problems.

At the heart of the social enterprise movement is the ongoing challenge of accessing investment capital for socially responsible purposes.  Acquiring start-up capital is a common issue for many nonprofits. It's exacerbated by federal tax laws that restrict nonprofits from accessing traditional forms of equity, such as venture capital and, sometimes, commercial debt. For the most part, nonprofits must rely on private foundation grants, government support, and, for some, earned income such as fees for services. To subsidize their earned income, some nonprofits have set up separate social enterprise business sidelines. The for-profit sector faces its own challenges in funding charitable activities because federal tax laws generally restrict private business entities from accessing foundation grants and government assistance. In addition, for-profit investors expect market-rate returns and maximized profits. Their expectations don't align well with social mission-focused entities, which need "patient capital" and typically have slower, more modest growth.

There is a growing body of thought that new business models and possibly new tax incentives or structures are needed to effectively bridge the "sector" gap. These new models would eliminate the need for social entrepreneurs to either choose between the for-profit and nonprofit business models or create and manage both. One such model, could be a form of business that blends attributes of nonprofit and for-profit organizations in order to promote investment in socially responsible objectives. “It’s time we utilize innovative ways to stimulate the economy and create jobs we need to spur the growth of socially responsible business by simplifying partnerships between nonprofit foundations and for-profit investors. Hybrid financial tools can generate a vast pool of investment funds needed to develop companies dedicated to the public good.

There are major lessons learned from the global greed era we are leaving behind to a new era which creates an opportunity for the investment of private capital to further social purposes.

November 04, 2013


The Washington Award Program has chosen Melvin J Howard Foundation, Inc for the 2013 Washington Awards in the Non-Profit Organizations classification.