April 11, 2018 / 5:58 PM / 2 years ago

With eye toward China, U.S. Congress eyes development finance overhaul

WASHINGTON, April 11 (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress is developing legislation to overhaul the way the government lends money for foreign development projects, something lawmakers said on Wednesday was necessary to counter China’s growing influence.

The House of Representatives is expected in the coming weeks to vote on, and likely pass, the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act and would create a new organization consolidating the existing Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and other U.S. development finance operations.

They lend money for projects in developing countries such as building energy, port and water infrastructure.

A companion bill has also been introduced in the Senate. Both measures have bipartisan support.

At a hearing on Wednesday, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said OPIC needed to be modernized to keep up with China’s increasing investment in Africa, Asia and throughout the world.

“The U.S. can’t and shouldn’t match China’s investments dollar for dollar, but we can and should do more to support international economic development with partners who have embraced the private sector-driven development model,” Representative Ed Royce, the committee’s Republican chairman, said in his opening remarks.

OPIC, which aims to advance U.S. interests by lending to overseas business ventures, has come under fire from critics who say private banks are best suited to make investment decisions. Last year, President Donald Trump proposed cutting funding for any new OPIC projects, although the agency makes money for the U.S. government.

This year, his administration has been pushing for a new U.S. Development Finance Institution, one organization to coordinate all development financing.

The administration asked Congress for $96 million in administrative expenses and $38 million for credit programming and other tools for the new organization. However, Ray Washburne, OPIC’s president, testified to the committee on Wednesday that it is expected the new DFI would make hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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