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What Are the Different Methods of Financing International Trade?

By Theresa Miles
Updated May 16, 2024
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International trade is a key factor in the prosperity of economies worldwide. Common financing methods that help facilitating trade between buyers and sellers across international borders include working capital financing, cash-in-advance and open accounts. Each of these methods use a variety of trade finance products that are available to exporters to increase cash flow and reduce the risk associated with shipping products overseas.

Exporters use different methods of financing international trade, depending upon the resources they have available and the transactional risk they are able to absorb. The ability to access international markets is an important strategic opportunity for manufacturers and sellers because it expands a company's customer base exponentially. International trading is much more complicated than making domestic sales, however, and comes with internal and external stress factors that often determine whether a company can effectively operate in the global arena.

The method an exporter uses for financing international trade depends on these stress factor. A company can only export goods if it can afford to manufacture them and wait for payment at some time in the future, when the goods are delivered or sold on the importer's end. Also, a company can only enter the exporting business if it can find a way to absorb or defray the external risk of nonpayment. The exporter may extend credit to the importer with the hope that payment will be made on delivery as agreed, or may require payment upfront, shifting the risk to the importer. Unfortunately, an exporter who requires importers to pay in advance may not be as competitive in the international marketplace as an exporter who can wait for payment.

To address the internal stresses of financing international trade at the manufacturing and cash flow level, an exporter can use various types of working capital financing. This financing method utilizes loans and guarantees from government programs designed to aid exporting, specialized programs by international trade associations and export credit insurance offered by casualty companies. Working capital financing impacts the exporter at the pre-shipment phase and makes it possible for him to be a participant in international markets as a threshold matter by stabilizing cash flow and insuring importer performance.

The cash-in-advance method of financing international trade requires the importer to pay for his orders upfront. It removes the transactional risk from the exporter but also makes it harder for him to compete in the marketplace. Electronic payment methods, such as using credit cards and wire transfers for payment, are the hallmarks of this method.

Using open account terms is the method of financing international trade that has the most significant involvement by banks and financial services firms. The financing options under this method mostly impact the post-shipping phase of the transaction. Letters of credit, a debt reduction method called forfaiting, factoring and documentary collections fall under this method.

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