Key highlights

  • Sub-Saharan Africa will increase 4x its mobile data usage in the next 5 years and while the mobile industry will contribute $184bn to GDP by 2024 across Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.

  • Unlike developed markets, data growth is skewed towards mobile data where technology advancements and MNO investment are required to deliver service to rural populations.

  • The Economic and Social benefits of closing the connectivity divide are substantial.

  • Half of Africa remains unconnected.

The internet fosters productivity and innovation across all areas of the economy and has already changed many aspects of our lives in the developed world. However, only 2.7bn of 7bn people have access to the internet today. Systematically unconnected societies typically live in developing or rural regions. On a positive note, Sub-Saharan Africa has repeatedly topped the chart of record internet access growth rates globally.

Percentage of individuals using the internet by region (2019)

The above chart from the ITU indicates most growth potential for the continent of Africa. With only 28.2% enjoying access to internet services, the need for corporate and private investments is ever present.

As global demand for data consumption steadily increases alongside the percentage of internet users, socio economic development will contribute to GDP growth and promote employment & education, especially in the region of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic Impact

Increased productivity - In developing economies, high speed internet connectivity offers extraordinary opportunities for economic development and fosters productivity and innovation across all areas of the economy. The increase in data availability and transferability allows markets to function with more efficiency while also accelerating the rate of innovation and technology adoption. A key example stems from applications in frontier markets where cellular connectivity allows famers to access pricing information, weather forecasts, disease control and livestock tracking.

Supporting enterprise and innovation – SME’s in developing countries are among the largest winners from improved internet access. The benefit of reduced transaction costs and distance constraints lowers barriers to entry to global markets while attracting talent and investment.

Reduction of extreme poverty – Internet access can lead to fundamental advancements in the structure of economies where the sharing of information allows both increased specialisation and higher paying jobs, but also increased yields from agriculture driven economies that have access to weather information and tutorials on procedures and crop development.

  • Long run productivity could be enhanced by 25%.

  • The resulting economic activity could generate $2.2t in additional GDP and create 140m new job opportunities.

Social Impact

In addition to the far-reaching economic benefits of increased connectivity social impacts are equally significant. Access to basic health information will reduce the number of deaths and severe illness from avoidable and easily treatable disease – Evidence suggests that the link between literacy and mortality rates shows that internet access alone could save up to 2.5m lives across India, Africa and Southeast Asia if internet penetration was that of developed nations. In addition, access to basic levels of healthcare information in remote locations will reduce cost pressures on diagnosis and treatment as well as reducing child mortality in new-borns and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Often underestimated benefits are to be found in the improvement of education and personal relationship development. PEW research centre has published a study that analyses a survey which was cried out in SSA. 79% of local agree that education will improve, due to the mobilization of global resources, the ability to participate in globalization and widespread inclusion in the online learning environment. 62% of participants agreed that internet access will enable them to enjoy a higher quality of life when it comes to personal relationships. Be that through text messages or skype calls with loved ones that are elsewhere or simply to take care of personal affairs, the majority agrees on the collective benefit. Whilst education directly links to future economic growth potential, personal relationships are very important too, as they create collective happiness which indirectly reflects in work morale and entrepreneurship, hence also contributing to GDP growth.

Job Creation

The Job opportunity is large, with both direct and indirect jobs being created.

  • Direct jobs in the construction and installation of mobile tower and broadband networks.

  • Incremental employment from businesses selling goods and services to those directly involved in network construction.

  • Growth in offshore services from accounting, software development, back office, and call centre activities.

Barriers to growth in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa and reducing the cost of connectivity.

Connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa continues to increase; however, data costs remain prohibitively high in many regions demonstrated on the map below.

High speed internet has been available in the developed world since the early 2000’s with the introduction of ADSL based broadband (and later cable broadband) as a replacement for dialup internet. With this came WIFI, online streaming services, Netflix, mobile banking, online education and everything else required by modern society.

The rollout of broadband in the developed world was initially started by using existing copper phone lines delivering speeds in the region of 1-2 Mbps. With growing data demands, dedicated fibre backbone networks began to gain popularity, followed by Fibre to the Home and Fibre to the Cabinet services that are now commonplace across most of Europe. The UK has a target of 85% of all UK premises to have access to gigabit broadband by 2025, most of which will be delivered by open-reach’s FTTC program across rural England and dedicated urban FTTH operators such as Hyperopic and Community Fibre.

Developing markets, primarily Sub-Saharan Africa have a dire need for internet connectivity but aren’t able to progress in the same manner that Europe has taken. Phone line infrastructure is not as advanced, nor can it support today’s high data traffic demands.

With a large portion of connectivity taking place over mobile connections the demand for the majority of SSA’s populous is for high-speed mobile data – not so much fixed line internet.

Key global themes are centred towards the rollout of 5g service in major cities – this is coming sooner than expected in SSA with both Vodacom and MTN launching the first 5G fixed wireless access services in several locations in South Africa. Operators in the region will invest over $52bn in the next 5 years in digital infrastructure growth.

Although MNO investment is fantastic in the journey towards connecting Africa, only 50% of the population of SSA is actively subscribed to a mobile data plan thus there is a clear, dire need for investment in rural connectivity. Locations with no fibre or phone line service are plagued by this systematic lack of access to education, financial and basic medical services.

These communities’ distance from existing infrastructure, combined with very low incomes makes for a difficult investment decision for MNO’s when provisioning service thus they will need to look towards new technologies and businesses to close the connectivity divide.

New technologies are making it cheaper and faster to deploy networks to rural areas through two primary routes.

  • Terrestrial microwaves backhaul and free space optical technology advances have made it possible to connect regions that are semi-rural or within 50 miles of a large population centre with 3g and 4g GSM services.

  • Satellite backhaul is an option for very rural communities and businesses however has historically been plagued by latency issues and high transmission costs – in recent years the shift from C band to Ka and Ku band capable VSAT equipment has made it possible to deliver 3g services anywhere in the world for a modest cost.

Future technologies are being tested such as Google’s project Loon (without success). The future of connectivity, particularly for mobile backhaul will probably lean towards Low-Earth-Orbit solutions such as SpaceX’s Starlink – currently delivering low latency service across Europe and USA and speeds of 300mpbs+. Compared with existing Geostationary satellite solutions that are slower, with round trip latencies in the 600ms range.

LEO systems are not without their issues, mainly high setup costs and complex equipment (electronically steered arrays to track LEO satellites across the sky) but existing VSAT solutions present the only viable way for MNOs to access rural populations.

Nearly half a billion people will be using mobile internet in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025, a third of which will come from Nigeria and Ethiopia, while mobile data consumption will grow more than 400% towards 2025 its clear that digital infrastructure demands are ever increasing. A distinct focus will be needed in rural areas as economics continue to improve.

References and Sources:

1. GSMA Mobile Economy 2020

2. Deloitte – Various

3. International Telecommunications Union, 2019

4. PEW research centre, 2017

Macro Market Update – April 2021.

Key Highlights:

  • World merchandise trade volume is expected to increase by 8.0% in 2021 after falling 5.3% in 2020, a smaller decline than previously estimated.

  • Trade growth will likely slow to 4.0% in 2022, with the total volume of global trade remaining below the pre-pandemic trend.

  • World GDP at market exchange rates should increase by 5.1% in 2021 and 3.8% in 2022, after contracting by 3.8% in 2020.

  • Merchandise trade in nominal dollar terms fell in 2020 by 7% while commercial services exports declined by 20%.

  • Falling oil prices led to a 35% contraction in trade in fuels in 2020.

  • Travel services were down 63% in 2020 and are not expected to fully recover until the pandemic wanes.

Prospects for a quick recovery in world trade have improved as merchandise trade expanded more rapidly than expected in the second half of last year.

According to new estimates from the WTO, the volume of world merchandise trade is expected to increase by 8.0% in 2021 after having fallen 5.3% in 2020, continuing its rebound from the pandemic-induced collapse that bottomed out in the second quarter of last year.

Trade growth should then slow to 4.0% in 2022, and the effects of pandemic will continue to be felt as this pace of expansion would still leave trade below its pre-pandemic trend.

World Merchandise Trade Volume, 2015Q1-2022Q4

Index, 2015=100

Sources: WTO and UNCTAD for trade volume data; WTO for forecasts.

The relatively positive short-term outlook for global trade is marred by regional disparities, continued weakness in services trade, and lagging vaccination timetables, particularly in poor countries. COVID-19 continues to pose the greatest threat to the outlook for trade, as new waves of infection could easily undermine any hoped-for recovery.

"The strong rebound in global trade since the middle of last year has helped soften the blow of the pandemic for people, businesses, and economies," WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. "Keeping international markets open will be essential for economies to recover from this crisis and a rapid, global and equitable vaccine roll-out is a prerequisite for the strong and sustained recovery we all need.

"Ramping up production of vaccines will allow businesses and schools to reopen more quickly and help economies get back on their feet. But as long as large numbers of people and countries are excluded from sufficient vaccine access, it will stifle growth, and risk reversing the health and economic recovery worldwide," she said. The Director-General added that trade through value chains has helped countries access food and essential medical supplies during the crisis.

"Manufacturing vaccines requires inputs from many different countries. One leading COVID-19 vaccine includes 280 components sourced from 19 different countries," she said. "Trade restrictions make it harder to ramp up production. The WTO has helped keep trade flowing during the crisis. Now, the international community must leverage the power of trade to expand access to life-saving vaccines."

Short-term risks to the forecast are firmly on the downside and centred on pandemic-related factors. These include insufficient production and distribution of vaccines, or the emergence of new, vaccine-resistant strains of COVID-19. Over the medium-to-long term, public debt and deficits could also weigh on economic growth and trade, particularly in highly indebted developing countries.

The forecast illustration in the chart above show two alternative scenarios for trade.

  • In the upside scenario, vaccine production and dissemination would accelerate, allowing containment measures to be relaxed sooner. This would be expected to add about 1 percentage point to world GDP growth and about 2.5 percentage points to world merchandise trade volume growth in 2021. Trade would return to its pre-pandemic trend by the fourth quarter of 2021.

  • In the downside scenario, vaccine production does not keep up with demand and/or new variants of the virus emerge against which vaccines are less effective. Such an outcome could shave 1 percentage point off of global GDP growth in 2021 and lower trade growth by nearly 2 percentage points.

For the whole of 2020, merchandise trade was down 5.3%. This drop is smaller than the 9.2% decline foreseen in the WTO's previous forecast in October 2020. The better-than-expected performance towards the end of the year can partly be explained by the announcement of new COVID-19 vaccines in November, which contributed to improved business and consumer confidence.

The volume of world merchandise trade plunged 15.0% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020 (revised up from -17.3 % in October) as countries around the world imposed lockdowns and travel restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19. Lockdowns were eased in the second half of the year as infection rates came down, allowing goods shipments to surge back to near 2019 levels by the fourth quarter.

Faster trade and output growth in the second half of 2020 was supported by major government policy interventions, including significant fiscal stimulus measures in the United States. These measures boosted household incomes and supported continued spending on all goods, including imports. In addition, many businesses and households adapted to the changing circumstances, finding innovative ways to sustain economic activity in the face of health-related restrictions on mobility. Effective management of the pandemic limited the extent of the economic downturn in China and other Asian economies, allowing them to continue importing. These actions helped prop up global demand and may have prevented an even larger trade decline.

Trade in nominal US dollar terms fell even more sharply than trade in volume terms in 2020. World merchandise export values were down 8% compared to the previous year, while commercial services receipts tumbled 20%. Services trade was especially weighed down by international travel restrictions, which prevented the delivery of services requiring physical presence or face-to-face interaction.

The impact of the pandemic on merchandise trade volumes differed across regions in 2020, with most regions recording large declines in both exports and imports. Asia was the sole exception, with export volumes up 0.3% and import volumes down a modest 1.3%. Regions rich in natural resources saw the largest declines in imports, including Africa (-8.8%), South America (‑9.3%) and the Middle East (-11.3%), probably due to reduced export revenues as oil prices fell around 35%. In comparison to other regions, the decline in North American imports was relatively small (-6.1%).

In 2021, demand for traded goods will be driven by North America (11.4%) thanks to large fiscal injections in the United States, which should also stimulate other economies through the trade channel. Europe and South America will both see import growth of around 8%, while other regions will register smaller increases.

Much of global import demand will be met by Asia, exports from which are expected to grow by 8.4% in 2021. European exports will increase nearly as much (8.3%), while shipments from North America will see a smaller rise (7.7%). Strong forecasts for export growth in Africa (8.1%) and the Middle East (12.4%) depend on travel expenditures picking up over the course of the year, which would strengthen demand for oil. Meanwhile, South America will see weaker export growth (3.2%), as will the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including certain former and associate Members (4.4%).

What accounts for the smaller-than-expected contractions in growth and trade?

Strong monetary and fiscal policies by many governments were probably the biggest factors. Much greater in scale and geographic coverage than the response to the 2008-09 global financial crisis, these policies helped prevent a larger drop in global demand, which would have reduced trade further. Fiscal policy in particular boosted personal incomes in advanced economies, allowing some households to maintain relatively high levels of consumption, and supporting more exports than would otherwise have been the case.

Lockdowns and travel restrictions caused consumers to shift spending away from non-traded services and towards goods. Innovation and adaptation by businesses and households kept economic activity from falling even more. Manufacturing supply chains were able to resume operations, and many people shifted to working remotely, generating income and demand. Finally, trade policy restraint by WTO members prevented protectionism from strangling world trade. As WTO monitoring has documented, many restrictive trade measures imposed at the start of the pandemic were rolled back, and new liberalising measures were introduced.

Despite continuing challenges, notably around vaccine trade, the multilateral trading system kept trade flowing and prevented worse outcomes, as members were restrained by commitments and economic self-interest. As during the global financial crisis, the foundation of the system proved sound.

Source: WTO (

The role of Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) is to invest commercial, yet catalytic capital to help create jobs, boost growth, and fight poverty and climate change amongst other mission aligned objective – with a focus on frontier and emerging markets. Since 2000, DFIs have grown from almost US$12 billion in annual investments to US$87 billion in 2017—an increase of six times. This developmental capital has played a significant role in helping many countries and companies advance their socio-economic development. In recent years, DFI’s has also played a prominent role in providing direct capital to financial institutions especially where there has been a strategic alignment in developmental goals. However, there is still much do to, with greater collaboration required with private market participants, particularly where current approaches have greater room for improvement, namely with respect to Trade Finance.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates a global trade finance gap of US$1.5tn with 40% of this deficit coming from the Asia-Pacific region and 74% of the gap made up by SMEs and mid-cap companies. Specifically, for Africa, the African Development Bank estimated that the market for bank-intermediated trade finance was between US$330-350bn in 2014 with unmet demand for trade finance in Africa higher than US$120bn.

Amid the fallout from Covid-19 this figure has skyrocketed. New research from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) estimates a capacity of US$1.9 to US$5tn in the trade credit market is necessary simply to return to 2019 levels. Factoring in this estimation along with the existing 2019 trade finance gap (US$1.5tn) means that, we now need between US$3.4tn and US$6.5tn to be able to meet the SDGs.

The impact of this global trade finance gap is serious. It is a major impediment toward reducing poverty and minimising inequality – two areas that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out to eradicate back in 2015.

Against this backdrop, Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) are playing an increasing role in addressing the trade finance gap in Emerging and Frontier Markets (EFM), mostly through supporting commercial banks’ trade finance activities on a funded and unfunded basis as well as direct lending to larger companies (primarily in the energy and resources sector). To complement these efforts, we believe that there is potential to further penetrate the EFM trade finance market by increased collaboration between DFIs and Non-Bank Financial Institutions (NBFIs). DFIs approach of supporting commercial banks to mobilise trade finance in EFM has its flaws. Commercial banks are under increasing pressure to comply with one-size-fit-all global banking regulations relating to capital, liquidity and various other compliance laws and regulations. The developmental capital allocation to SMEs through commercial banks has been seriously impeded due to ever increasing pressure on the Banks to comply with a stringent global regulatory environment, especially trade finance which is cross border in its very nature.

DFI Activity in Trade Finance

DFIs that are quite active in EFM trade finance include the likes of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) through International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), CDC Group UK (CDC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), Afreximbank, The Eastern And Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB), Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) amongst others. DFIs support EFM trade finance through various means such as export credit agencies, issuing credit instruments to banks in addition to guarantees, risk-sharing facilities and trade facilitation programs. Most of these activities rely on Commercial Banks with selective direct support to large international players active in EFM.

Despite their growing participation in the segment, DFI trade finance activity is often limited to their respective member countries with only a handful of DFIs involved in direct trade finance lending. Whilst this approach has many merits - catalysing significant impact and flow of funds, it leaves a considerably large missing middle. SMEs who form most companies in EMF and continued to be underserved by commercial banks as demonstrated by the increasing trade finance gap, something which will likely unfortunately only grow further as COVID-19 forces banks to re-look at their strategies and core customer base. Since the global financial crisis of 2008/2009, many international banks that have traditionally supported EFM’s trade link to the developed consuming countries has left this space which have been a significant contributor to the trade finance gap.

Limitations of Relying Solely on Commercial Banks:

  • Capital and Risk Regulations: Increasingly stringent capital and risk requirements mean that banks (especially regional ones) have lesser capital available to lend. In addition, capital is risk based and SMEs and EMFs are rated high risk on most traditional risk models, and therefore require higher amount of capital making cost of finance very expensive or are simply ignored by commercial banks. For DFIs, this translates to reduced exposure to local trade finance markets. In detailed study by WTO in 2017, the main constraints to additional supply of trade finance highlighted by bank respondents clearly shows that risk and regulatory requirements that Banks have to comply with were the greatest barrier to increase trade finance lending to SMEs.

  • Shortage of Supply: Demand for trade finance far surpasses supply - DFIs that are active in this space are only accessing a portion of the market and hence a portion of total available returns. For example, in 2014 Afreximbank was only able to process US$2.68bn out of US$23.8bn in requested trade finance products despite its great efforts to help narrow the gap. The unmet trade finance demand (the trade finance gap) in Africa is conservatively estimated at US$91bn in 2014. Although this represents a 26% decline compared to 2011, the gap is still significant and ranges between US$90bn and US$120bn.

  • Client concentration: Trade finance access remains disproportionately skewed to large corporates while new entrants and SMEs are clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing trade finance.

  • Globally, in 2014, 47% of trade finance requests were submitted by SMEs versus 14% which are submitted by large corporates. However, SMEs’ were rejected 52% of the time while the approval rate among large corporates was around 87%.

  • In Africa, the ten biggest customers of commercial banks have accounted for as much as 58% of the banks’ books in the past while new clients and SMEs accounted for only 15% and 28% respectively.

  • In Asia-Pacific, according to banks surveyed by the ADB, SMEs account for 51% of trade finance demand. The rejection rate of SME requests was 45% compared to mid-sized-larger sized firms (39%) and multinational corporations (17%).

Why do SMEs Face Challenges Accessing Finance?

While the barriers to accessing trade finance impacts all countries, it is SMEs in EFM that are impacted the most. Factors include but are not limited to:

  • The relatively small deal sizes (e.g. sub US$5m) presented by SMEs makes returns less attractive for banks especially when compared to larger corporates. Considering the associated transaction and due diligence costs, this results in bankers typically choosing to focus efforts on upper middle market and large corporates. The irony is, in EFM, SMEs are the largest employers and economic contributors. According to the World Economic Forum a lack of access to trade finance is a top-three export barrier for half of the world’s countries – particularly the poorest ones.

  • For international banks, currency risk, local bank credit risk and sovereign risk can be deterrents against lending to EFM SMEs, even if the SME itself has a solid business model and a strong growth trajectory.

  • Trade Finance is a specialist operation where highly experienced origination; risk & operations personnel are required, particularly those who can understand the nuances of SMEs, many commercial banks take a product led approach, hence if a financing requirement does not fit a box, the transaction is declined…. This impacts SMEs given that a volume driven commercial bank will focus such efforts on larger clients vs. smaller.

  • There have been many DFI backed schemes to facilitate trade finance with large multinational banks, however there is limited public data available on their success in terms of how many transactions that would have genuinely been declined were approved as a result of the scheme. Anecdotal evidence gathered from SMEs points towards there being very limited benefit.

Faced with some of these challenges, SMEs are increasingly turning to alternative sources of trade finance such as trade finance funds to support their needs.

Impact of COVID-19 on Trade Finance

COVID-19 has impacted the global supply chains as never seen before. Access to trade finance was already an issue and COVID-19 has exacerbated this further with EFM been hardest hit. For EFM, reduced trade activity coupled with increased perceived risk has resulted in increased cost and shortage of trade financing. International trade is a major source of hard currencies for EFM and COVID-19 is putting pressure on the balance of payments which is resulting in shortage of liquidity and therefore rapid decrease in foreign reserves. International trade and trade finance are a pivotal component in economic recovery and COVID-19 response.

DFI’s have responded to the challenge and 16 OECD countries grouped under ‘DFI Alliance’ has announced to work together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in EFM. The measures are wide ranging and as per official statement, includes targeting liquidity issues in financial sectors, supporting the viability of existing private sector companies, and promote new investment in goods and services necessary to global health, safety, and economic sustainability. The DFI Alliance is developing mechanisms designed to sustain companies, return them to full production, and restore employment opportunities essential to the societies in which they operate.

The exact support mechanism targeting international trade and trade finance is unclear at this stage. Any COVID-19 response of such nature should specifically focus on ensuring that the flow of goods and capital through international trade and trade finance is prioritised and ensuring that SMEs are not left out from such measures.

A Case for Blended Finance

Trade Finance Funds are widely accepted as complementary to banks, especially since funds offer access to the EFM SME trade finance segment that banks struggle to service. Additionally, as international banks de-risk, more and more alternative trade finance providers are filling in the gap that has been left behind. This begs the question, how can DFIs work more closely with trade finance funds?

DFIs have been working with funds in different segments of the capital structure for many years, e.g., supporting a significant number of VC & PE funds and microfinance funds, hence a segment of the capital structure that is the lifeblood for economic development and growth should surely align to their stated goals.

Trade Finance has many characteristics that are attractive to traditional investors, however, to crowd this capital in, DFIs must play a key role by being the first or an early mover, in line with their stated objectives of supporting sustainable development. Using a blended finance approach can go a long way, be it through direct equity participation, direct funding/seeding of funds, traditional guarantees or through risk participation, DFIs can play a significant role in furthering access to trade finance for SMEs.

In recent years, niche Trade Finance funds have shown mixed track records with a few firms failing owing to various reasons. There have been many lessons learnt, one of the most important being the role of governance. In addition to capital, DFI’s can play a pivotal role in development of this asset class by influencing governance, underwriting discipline, reporting and genuine ESG integration into the firms and strategies.

Moving Forward

“If SMEs in emerging markets do not have access to financing--trade and other types of financial support--they will not survive the pandemic. Given the overwhelming importance of SMEs, this is a critical gap that must be filled by banks and other financial institutions. Business as usual will not work. Financial institutions have to get creative about how to get money into the hands of the smaller firms that need it most.” – Deborah Elms, Executive Director, Asian Trade Centre.

Whilst the importance financing of international trade was explicitly recognized in the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda as an important means of implementation of the SDGs, significant opportunities remain for existing and new market participants to support trade and development.

Through further support from commercial banks, DFIs and greater proactive collaboration with specialist private investment firms, we strongly believe that additional and greater impact can be achieved, particularly benefiting those at the bottom of the pyramid.

References & Sources