Standard Chartered Bank, one of the earliest foreign lenders to locally incorporate in China, on Friday joined the foreign lenders' "rural finance campaign", which aims to provide funds to farmers.
The bank launched its first micro-finance program in China to provide small loans to cotton farmers in Awati county in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
"It is the first time that a foreign bank has been involved in establishing a complete micro-finance program leading directly to farmers in China," said Katherine Tsang, Standard Chartered Bank (China) Ltd's CEO and executive director.
The program will initially provide working capital loans, without pledge or guarantee, to local cotton farmers. The loans will be disbursed to farmers through an entrustment loan arrangement with the local Awati Credit Cooperative. The maximum small loan is 15,000 yuan ($2,033).
The bank will also provide training courses to assist farmers control budgets and improve productivity efficiency by joining hands with leading cotton shirt maker Esquel Cotton Investment Ltd, Standard Chartered's strategic partner in the program. Esquel will also help the lender approach and communicate with farmers.
Tsang said that the Xinjiang micro-finance program could provide experience for Standard Chartered to establish a rural bank in 2008. But the China CEO declined to reveal the specific time and place where the lender might set up the rural bank.
Enthusiasm for foreign-funded banks in China's rural market rose after the country's banking authorities lifted restrictions in October. Villages and townships were approved to try rural banks on a pilot basis.
HSBC opened the first village bank in rural China on December 13. The Hubei Suizhou Cengdu HSBC Rural Bank Co Ltd, or HSBC Rural Bank, will offer deposit services to local businesses and individuals and provide loans to agricultural companies.
At the end of 2006, the China Banking Regulatory Commission lowered the registered capital threshold to 3 million yuan for banks at the county level and 1 million yuan for those at village and town levels.
"Standard Chartered Bank fully supports the government's policy of expediting the reform of the rural financial system, and is committed to active involvement in rural finance projects," Tsang said.