Export insurer redraws the risk map

BRITISH companies are safer exporting goods to Botswana or Ghana than to Israel. And in Eastern Europe, it is almost 10 times more hazardous to export to Poland than the neighbouring Czech Republic.

These are among the surprising judgements in a table of export insurance premiums published by NCM Credit Insurance, Britain's biggest insurer of export credit risks. Until 1991, NCM was the short-term arm of the Export Credits Guarantee Department. It insures pounds 16bn of British exports a year against non-payment.

Despite the generally poor record of African countries, Botswana has two years of foreign reserves in hand, and is seen as politically and economically stable. Israel, by contrast, has various pressures that mean the situation can change rapidly.

The premium for Poland is many times higher than for the Czech Republic because Poland is still struggling to reschedule the vast debts it built up in the late Seventies and early Eighties, while the Czechs have always managed their foreign exchange tightly.

NCM is likely to cut premiums on a range of countries, reflecting the improving economic health of much of the developing world.

Last week it announced it was cutting rates on three countries, including the two highest rated. The charge on Argentinian business was reduced from pounds 6 per pounds 100 of business insured to pounds 3.50, while on Lebanon it has been cut from pounds 6.33 to pounds 4.50. Saudi Arabia, already considered the safest market outside the OECD, had its rate cut from 25p to 20p.

These are the first rate reductions NCM has made since it took over from ECGD. Conni Randall, business strategy director, said the organisation was looking at a range of other markets. While risks in industrial markets were worsening, especially in Continental Europe, much of the developing world was improving, she said.

(Table omitted)