As the Belt and Road Initiative has gathered pace, it has attracted increasing interest from local, regional and global banks in central and eastern Europe.
But it is Chinese policy banks that continue to set the pace in the region when it comes to BRI, led by ICBC and Bank of China. Both made a notable contribution to BRI financing in CEE over the last 12 months, but it is ICBC that takes the regional award this year in recognition of its efforts to strengthen its engagement with the region.
At the start of the year, the bank announced plans to open up a subsidiary in Vienna to serve as a headquarters for its rapidly growing franchise in emerging Europe. ICBC already has branches in Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as subsidiaries in Russia and Turkey, so the Austrian operation will focus on other key markets in the region, including Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Croatia. The project is in the final stages of development and is expected to be finalized before the end of the year.
The group also reaffirmed its commitment to key BRI country Kazakhstan in May, with the opening of a representative office in the capital, Astana. The new outlet will complement ICBC’s branch in Almaty, which this year celebrates 25 years of operation.
ICBC also remains the leader among Chinese banks in syndicated loans in CEE, both in terms of the volume of deals and funds disbursed. In the 12 months to the end of June, the bank was involved in 26 syndications and disbursed a total of $1.3 billion, according to Dealogic, compared with $939 million from 14 deals for its closest rival, Bank of China.
Turkey was a particular focus, with ICBC providing financing to all of the country’s leading bank borrowers, but the bank was also prominent in syndications for a broad range of corporates and financial institutions from Russia, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.
There was further evidence of ICBC’s commitment to Turkey in July, when it agreed to provide a $3.6 billion loan package to the country’s energy and transportation sector.