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China in Africa: The Real Story

The Rise of ICBC: New Environmental Challenges

Deborah Brautigam

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world's largest bank, is increasing its African exposure. Much of this has been done in collaboration with Standard Bank of South Africa, which serves as a partner and, perhaps, tutor. In Ethiopia, however, ICBC seemed to be going solo when it apparently agreed to finance the export of turbines for a controversial dam. Read more about it in Peter Bosshard's May 27, 2010 article in Pambazuka.
This new development has several important implications. China's main financier in Africa, China Eximbank, has over the years formulated and then revised its environmental policy. After a long learning process, China Eximbank now uses international consultants to do its environmental and social appraisals. Will ICBC have to repeat this same lengthy learning process? And perhaps more to the point, will we witness a "race to the bottom' --- or pressure to conform to global standards --- among China's banks as they go global in Africa?