Trade Finance

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DEFINITION of 'Trade Finance'

The financing of international trade. Trade finance includes such activities as lending, issuing letters of credit, factoring, export credit and insurance. Companies involved with trade finance include importers and exporters, banks and financiers, insurers and export credit agencies, as well as other service providers. Trade finance is of vital importance to the global economy, with the World Trade Organization estimating that 80 to 90% of global trade is reliant on this method of financing.

BREAKING DOWN 'Trade Finance'

Although international trade has been in existence for centuries, trade finance developed as a means of facilitating it further. The widespread use of trade finance is one of the factors that have contributed to the enormous growth of international trade in recent decades.

In its simplest form, trade form works by reconciling the divergent needs of an exporter and importer. While an exporter would prefer to be paid upfront by the importer for an export shipment, the risk to the importer is that the exporter may simply pocket the payment and refuse shipment. Conversely, if the exporter extends credit to the importer, the latter may refuse to make payment or delay it inordinately. The most common solution to this problem is through a letter of credit, which is opened in the exporter's name by the importer through a bank in his or her home country. The letter of credit essentially guarantees payment to the exporter by the bank issuing the letter of credit upon receipt of documentary proof that the goods have been shipped. Although this is a somewhat cumbersome process, the letter of credit system is one of the most popular trade finance mechanisms.

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