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Credit Network for Hainan
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Plans are underway to set up the country's first Grameen-assisted microcredit networks, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus said at the weekend.


Speaking at the Boao Forum for Asia, Yunus said that the governor of the host island province Hainan, which is relatively poor compared with its mainland neighbors, had asked him to help set up a microcredit network.


A delegation from the province, headed by the one of its vice-governors, will fly to Bangkok next month, although an exact timetable for setting up the network has yet to be finalized, Yunus said.


He said that similar arrangements were in place in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Southwest China's Sichuan Province, without giving further details.


While acknowledging the great potential for microcredit networks in rural China, Yunus urged the banking authorities to help create a better legal environment for the projects.


For instance, new regulations from the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) in January aimed at facilitating banks' entry into the rural market and improving their financial services, lowered the minimum required registered capital to 3 million yuan ($384,615) for county banks and 1 million yuan for village banks.


Three types of experimental rural banks have already been set up in less developed provinces, including Sichuan, Jilin, Gansu, Qinghai, Hubei and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region under the supervision of the CBRC.


However, the CBRC regulations do not apply to grassroots financial institutions that provide only loan services and not deposit facilities, something Yunus strongly opposes.


"The ban cuts a leg off these organisations, and they have to rely on other financial institutions for capital support, which is not a healthy practice," said Yunus.


Sound backing


The new regulations also stipulate that each rural microcredit bank should be backed by a traditional bank, holding a minimum 20-percent stake. No other shareholder is permitted to hold more than a 10-percent stake.


While many organisations and financial bodies are interested in joining the program, the investment rules must be made simple and convenient, Yunus said.


Du Xiaoshan, a pioneer of microfinance research and practice in China, and also deputy director of the Rural Development Institute affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed.


Du said that to build up an effective rural banking system, more organizations should be involved.


Devoted to poverty alleviation, Yunus urged banks to set up subsidiaries to make small loans to the world's poor, saying "the exciting area" offered plentiful business opportunities.


Yunus said he had called on conventional banks to enter the microcredit field, as pioneered by the Grameen Bank he founded, but "so far the response has not been as enthusiastic as I would have liked".


He said: "(Conventional banks) have the expertise and the knowledge. If they opened up their services, they could make things happen faster than anybody else could."


Yunus was keen to point out, however, that this particular branch of financial services requires specialist knowledge, and he urged banks considering moving into the market to set up separate subsidiaries.


"Someone who is used to conventional banking will find it very difficult to understand these unconventional methods," he said.


Grameen Bank was set up in 1983 and pioneered the concept of microcredit by giving very small loans to poor Bangladeshis, almost all of them women, who did not qualify for loans from conventional banks.


No collateral is needed for the loans, and repayment is based on an honor system. The bank achieves an almost 100-percent repayment rate.


(China Daily April 23, 2007)


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