Banks will have to pay 4% “penal interest” if they fail to repay loans taken from the Export Development Fund (EDF) formed from the country’s foreign exchange reserves on time, according to a circular issued by the Bangladesh Bank on Sunday.
The central bank has made the decision as several banks have been delaying the repayment of EDF loans for a long time, officials concerned have told The Business Standard.
Data obtained from the central bank on 19 March show that the outstanding amount of EDF loans currently stands at $5.5 billion.
To reduce the strain on its reserves, the central bank has been more aggressive in recovering outstanding EDF loans than disbursing new loans from the fund. In the last two and a half months, the amount of outstanding EDF loans has been reduced by over $1.5 billion.
According to central bank sources, the size of the EDF at the beginning of January this year was more than $7 billion, which was reduced to $6 billion by the third week of the month.
A senior official of the central bank said that the size of the EDF is regularly being reduced in accordance with the advice of the IMF.
According to the central bank’s guidelines, foreign exchange assistance is provided to exporters for importing raw materials under the EDF. An EDF loan has a tenor of 180 days and this period can be extended by another 90 days subject to the approval of the Bangladesh Bank. But, many banks failed to repay EDF loans even long after the completion of the extended period, prompting the central bank to impose penal interest.
The latest circular of the central bank says that the penal interest or compensation in the case of Shariah-based Islamic banking will be charged at a rate of 4% per annum above the prevailing interest rate on the overdue amount of EDF loans for the delayed period.
According to industry insiders, the interest rate of EDF loans was previously determined in accordance with the London Interbank Offer Rate (Libor). Until the beginning of the Covid-induced economic downturn, the interest rate of EDF loans was fixed by adding 1.5% to the 6-month average Libor.
However, to reduce the cost of funds amid the coronavirus pandemic, the interest rate was fixed at 2% in the first phase. Later on 20 July last, the rate was increased to 3%. Finally, the Bangladesh Bank increased the interest rate to 4.5% in January this year.
According to several sources of the central bank, the size of EDF will be downsized by another $2-3 billion within the next six months.
The central bank is planning to phase out foreign currency lending from EDF, which is made up of foreign currency.
The IMF delegation that visited Dhaka in December last year to discuss the terms and conditions for the $4.5 billion loan also suggested that the central bank exclude the existing EDF loans from its reserve calculation, sources at the central banks told The Business Standard.
Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury, chairman of Evince Textiles Ltd, told TBS, “EDF was instrumental to increasing our country’s exports. Through this, traders could take funds at low interest. The latest central bank instruction will discourage them from doing so.”
“If the interest rate of this fund is high, the product cost will also be high, which will trigger sales problems. It is true that the government is under some pressure because of the IMF’s loan conditions, but phasing out EDF should have been done slowly. At least a year would have given everyone a chance to sort it out,” he said.
“Backward linkages will face some major problems as they have to bring the cotton in advance. Besides, textile mills import yarn with EDF funds. At present, they have fewer orders, and if the import cost becomes high, they will face a big problem,” Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury said.
The central bank has reduced the size of the EDF but created a new fund of Tk10,000 crore as part of its decision to build an EDF in local currency to support exporters by providing loans at 4% interest.
In this regard, several exporters said the problem remains even if the fund is provided in local currency. Because Bangladeshi traders have to pay more than Tk110 for a dollar to import goods but get a lower rate when they export.
At present, the gross foreign currency reserves of the country stand at $31.28 billion, but if the IMF calculation is taken into account, the figure will be nearly $24 billion, according to central bank sources.