The US is planning to begin its counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with between five and 10 infrastructure projects that will be announced in January, a senior US official has told reporters.
The effort is seeking to “identify flagship projects that could launch by the start of next year”, the official said.
The schemes would be the first to be proposed under the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, formulated during the G-7 meeting held in Cornwall in June.
Since then, officials have been carrying out “listening tours” of countries that may be recipients of US-facilitated infrastructure. Most recently, Daleep Singh, the deputy national security adviser for international economics, led a delegation to Ghana and Senegal in West Africa, the first such tour of African countries.
This identified 10 candidate projects that the US could help bring to life.
The White House released a statement on Monday saying Singh had met with representatives from the private sector as well as environmental, labour and civil society leaders to solicit their views as to “how we can best support local communities in a way that responds to infrastructure needs and advances the highest standards for transparency and anticorruption, financial sustainability, labour protections, and environmental preservation”.
The references to transparency and other protections underline the US’ often-repeated criticisms of the BRI’s performance in these areas.
The administration official said Singh’s audiences in Senegal and Ghana welcomed US assurances that, unlike China, the US would not require non-disclosure clauses or collateral agreements that could result in the seizure of ports or airports.
Projects discussed included setting up a vaccine manufacturing hub in Senegal, bolstering renewable energy supplies, boosting lending to women-owned businesses and narrowing the digital divide.
Another delegation visited Ecuador, Panama and Colombia in October, and another is planned for Asia before the end of the year.
The aim is to finalise the B3W’s inaugural projects during a G-7 meeting in December.
It is not clear whether the US and its allies will follow the Chinese model of funding schemes through direct loans by state-owned banks. The official said the US would offer developing countries “the full range” of financial tools, including equity stakes, loan guarantees, political insurance, grants and technical expertise to bring forward schemes that focus on “climate, health, digital technology and gender equality”.
During his recent visit to Glasgow, President Joe Biden said B3W would help create “a sustainable path to net-zero emissions by 2050”.
He said: “The Build Back Better Initiative, the Clean Green Initiative of Great Britain and the Global Gateway are all part of a joint effort among the G-7 partners to deliver high-quality, sustainable infrastructure.”