Navigating the intricacies of international trade presents a host of challenges for businesses, particularly when it comes to financial risk management. Credit and counter-party exposure now rank among the top concerns in today’s rapidly evolving credit risk environment, underscoring the significance of credit insurance as a valuable tool to support a business’ ambitions.

Leading the charge in the UAE is Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI), the federal export credit company, devoted to elevating the international competitiveness of UAE businesses. 

With a clear mandate to support the nation’s diversification strategy towards a non-oil economy, ECI offers a spectrum of tailored financial solutions catering to businesses of all sizes. From SMEs to large corporations, ECI is driving trade and safeguarding UAE businesses on the global stage.

In this episode of Trade Finance Talks, TFG’s Deepesh Patel sat down with Raja Al Mazrouei, CEO of Etihad Credit Insurance, to discover how ECI is not only encouraging UAE businesses to tap into emerging regional and international markets but also enabling them to scale new heights and achieve sustainable growth.

Facilitating worldwide reach for UAE businesses

In today’s interconnected economy, businesses grapple with an array of challenges that can potentially hinder their growth and expansion. Among these challenges, a significant concern is the inherent risk associated with extending credit to customers, especially when venturing into international markets. 

The fear of non-payment can significantly impact a company’s financial stability. Therefore, credit insurance serves as a valuable tool to protect against this risk, and this is where ECI plays a key role for UAE-based businesses.

According to Al Mazrouei, “Many MSMEs hesitate to export due to concerns about non-payment. When they approach ECI, we are able to provide them with those risk solutions so that they can focus on growing their business while we focus on the risk aspects of it.” 

Al Mazrouei further underscored ECI’s comprehensive range of solutions, stating, “We have a wide range of solutions that we provide to support export credit requirements. We do thorough risk, underwriting and risk assessment processes to facilitate access to other markets.”

Moreover, she explained that ECI empowers clients to access foreign markets by leveraging existing regional economic programs and trade agreements.

As Al Mazrouei noted, “Currently, our focus is on three countries: Turkey, Indonesia, and India, due to their significant populations, which make them huge markets for UAE-based businesses. We analyse the CEPA agreements, identify opportunities, and reach out to them to explore growth and collaboration.” This practice resonates with the UAE’s commitment to expanding foreign trade and international market access.

In essence, ECI goes beyond risk mitigation, propelling businesses towards a world of opportunities and helping them to thrive globally.

Diversification: ECI’s core focus 

In alignment with the UAE’s 2021 Vision, which aims to implement economic diversification policies and reduce the dependence on oil resources as a source of income, ECI places a robust emphasis on non-oil sectors. 

Al Mazrouei elucidated ECI’s strategy, stating, “Focusing on the non-oil sectors has given ECI the ability to look at those sectors, which are important to the economy, and connect with the manufacturers, exporters, and traders serving those sectors.”

Moreover, under Al Mazrouei’s leadership, ECI champions multiple vital sectors, reaffirming the organisation’s dedication to supporting industries fundamental to the nation’s economic prosperity. 

According to Al Mazrouei, “ECI supports 17 different sectors. We focus on healthcare, food, renewable energy, and all other non-oil sectors.” Besides, ECI’s outreach spans every corner of the UAE, ensuring equal access for companies across all emirates. 

She added, “We work with companies from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Sharjah to make sure that they all have equal access to all of these export opportunities.” 

Additionally, with a portfolio spanning 109 countries, ECI indisputably holds a prime position in linking UAE-based manufacturers, exporters, and traders to an extensive international market. As Al Mazrouei noted, “We have a lot of diversification strategies that focus on different sectors, different countries, and different emirates within the UAE.”

Driving sustainable trade practices: ECI’s commitment to a greener future

With the UAE set to host the 28th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) in November this year (COP 28), there has never been greater optimism about ESG momentum in the region. 

Al Mazrouei shed light on the UAE’s profound dedication to sustainability, marking 2023 as the ‘Year of Sustainability’.

She explained, “The year 2023 was labelled as the ‘Year of Sustainability’ in the UAE with the purpose of driving the mindset and strategies of all players within the UAE, whether it’s at the government level or the private sector or even at the community level towards sustainability.” 

This designation signifies a strategic effort to instil a sustainability-oriented approach across various sectors, spanning the government, private enterprises, and local communities.

With this in mind, ECI has consequently collaborated closely with partners to introduce two green financial solutions: green finance working capital and green insurance. 

These instruments are tailored to support companies in funding green and sustainable projects, as well as assisting exporters dedicated to embracing green initiatives.

Al Mazrouei highlighted, “We have the green finance working capital and the green insurance products that we provide to companies that are interested either in raising funding to invest in green and sustainable projects or exporters that are exporting to support one of the green economy opportunities.”

Beyond national borders, and as an integral part of COP 28, ECI has pledged an impressive $500 million towards boosting the UAE’s investments in African climate projects, which amount to a substantial $4.5 billion. 

Crucially, ECI also undertakes the facilitator role to ensure the success of these projects by enabling opportunities for local businesses. As Al Mazrouei expressed, “We will be opening the opportunity for UAE-based businesses and companies to benefit from these large projects and initiatives. With our understanding of their portfolio and the areas they can contribute to, we will plug them into export opportunities through our partnerships.”

Inspiring women in international trade: A journey through opportunities

Reflecting on her own journey, Al Mazrouei recounted her unconventional start in technology rather than international trade. This unique foundation, she emphasised, opened doors to diverse sectors and industries.

Drawing from her own experience, she said, “I didn’t start my career in international trade. I started in technology. And that has facilitated different sectors to be exposed to.”

This shift provided her with a profound insight into the intersection of technology and digitisation in trade finance. In her words, “When I joined Etihad Credit Insurance, that gave me a lot of excitement because I can look at the opportunities that technology has to fast track and build up faster access to financing, and more reliable access to trade opportunities.”

Moreover, Her Excellency expressed her enthusiasm for the transformative potential of technology as an avenue to expedite and streamline access to financing, ensuring a more reliable gateway to trade opportunities. 

Most notably, Al Mazrouei highlighted the aspect of inclusion that technology offers. Traditional systems often exclude various stakeholders, but technology bridges these gaps, offering opportunities to MSMEs, different countries, and a wide array of players within the sector. 

This inclusivity, she asserted, forms the cornerstone of economic growth. As she pointed out, “Technology truly brings inclusion opportunities for MSME, for different countries, for different players within the sector, which will create economic prosperity for all, after all.”