Last week, Bloomberg News reported that the Group of Seven nations (G7) intends to launch an alternative to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” when they meet later this week in Cornwall, England. The strategy is expected to be called the “Clean Green Initiative,” and the hope is that it will provide a framework to support sustainable development in developing countries. While discussion of the global minimum tax will dominate the headlines at G7, “Clean Green” is an important development with ramifications for U.S. and multinational energy companies.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a massive infrastructure project spanning from East Asia to Europe, which seeks to create a network of railways, pipelines, border crossings, maritime shipping routes, and special economic zones. Over 60 countries have signed on to Belt and Road projects, and more than 100 have expressed interest. Critics, however, contend that Belt and Road is “debt trap diplomacy,” using low-interest loans that several countries have struggled to repay. Critics have also focused on Belt and Road’s opaque bidding processes, which they claim fosters a culture of corruption, and the requirement that participants in the Belt and Road Initiative hire Chinese firms exclusively. Both of these factors have prevented U.S. and other non-Chinese, multinational energy companies from participating in significant infrastructure projects in developing countries.
The United States and its allies have been concerned about Belt and Road for some time, but to date they have been unable to offer a credible alternative. Individual G7 members have attempted to offer their own alternatives in recent years, without much success. But all G7 countries are committed to an alternative that focuses on transparency and rule of law. Even though the contours of “Clean Green” are still undecided, the fact that the G7 is taking a tangible step toward offering some alternative to Belt and Road should be a boon for U.S. and multinational energy companies, particularly those in the renewable space. Given the criticisms of the opacity of the Belt and Road Project, “Clean Green” will almost certainly contain a strong commitment to transparency and anti-corruption. As a result, companies with existing international operations and robust compliance programs will have an advantage in securing early projects. “Clean Green” projects should provide U.S. and other multinational energy companies with significant opportunities to expand market share in developing countries.