Historically, Latin America has invested 2% to 3% of regional gross domestic product (GDP) per year in infrastructure, even though it should reach at least 5% to meet the region’s needs. This difference creates a gap so large that can only be reduced with both private and public investments participation.
What progress has been made to close this gap?
Colombia and Chile are the countries with the highest capacity to carry out sustainable Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in infrastructure in the region, according to the Infrascope. Chile has a long tradition of private participation in infrastructure projects that goes back 25 years. Also, it has a sound regulatory framework supporting PPPs, a solid investment and business climate, and has developed financing instruments.
Colombia also enjoys a strong regulatory framework, supported particularly by the 2012 PPP law, and the strength of the institutions in charge of developing and maintaining PPP contracts. In the past five years, Chile and Colombia have awarded 70 and 30 PPP projects, respectively.
What can we learn from these countries’ experiences?
Colombia and Chile are two examples for the rest of region, especially regarding its regulations and PPPs’ maturity, where both countries scored first in the ranking for these two Infrascope’s assessment categories.
Colombia, for example, has incorporated the lessons learned from preceding toll road concession programs in the current 4G framework, particularly in the areas of: 1) risk allocation; 2) contracts financial structuring; 3) standardization of technical studies, financial models and methodologies to value risk; 4) streamlining and standardization of contracts; and 5) improvement of bankability, through the inclusion of lenders’ step-in rights and dispute resolution provisions; among others, according to a recent report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
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However, while the progress is important, there are challenges that remain, particularly, in mobilizing financing for the already awarded projects. Until now only eight projects have achieved financial closings for approximately $4 billion and there are still $10 billion remaining to finance.
The lessons and challenges from the 4G road concession program in Colombia are not unique to this sector, other infrastructure areas face similar constraints when it comes to accessing financing. It is no coincidence that the Infrascope’s Financing category yields the lowest score of the five assessment criteria for the 23 countries analyzed, with an average of 45 over 100.
Moreover, when it comes to developing innovative financing solutions, such as mobilizing institutional investors to close the infrastructure investment gap, even countries like Chile, still faces some challenges. In this country, the local regulations do not allow private pension funds to directly finance infrastructure projects.
How to help the region bridge the infrastructure financing gap?
To bridge this gap there are common features in place that are working. For example, countries like Brazil, Chile and Peru, that are ranked the highest in the Infrascope’s financing category, share the common feature of having some of the most developed capital markets in the region, with freely traded local-currency bonds from public and private issuers, as well as low sovereign risk.
Another example is Colombia and its work to address this gap through institutions like the Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional (FDN). This entity develops innovative financial products to reduce the financing costs for the projects and to facilitate access to finance and to capital markets, through credit guarantees and senior and subordinated debt with long tenors. Recently, the FDN launched a new product consisting of local currency loans to attract international investors that can provide guarantees and take the credit risk in the exposures but prefer to avoid the exchange rate risk.
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The lessons learned so far highlight areas that need to advance such as: 1) opening up the markets to local institutional lenders (i.e. private pension funds and insurance companies); 2) issuing impact development bonds and green bonds; 3) promoting access to project development funds; and 4) facilitating innovation with more sophisticated products in the financial sector and capital markets.
The debentures guarantee of Santa Vittoria do Palmar in Brazil and the B-bond for Campo Palomas in Uruguay, both structured by IDB Invest (formerly known as Inter-American Investment Corporation) show that the role of the private sector arms of multilateral development banks continues to be very relevant. These projects underscore the value of delivering innovative financing solutions and partnering with key public and private stakeholders to close the infrastructure financing gap in the region.
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