HARARE, Feb 24– European Investment Bank (EIB) officials are due to visit Zimbabwe soon on a mission to explore funding opportunities for the private sector, according to the European Union’s Head of Delegation to Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell’Aricciathe.

The EIB suspended lending to the Zimbabwean government more than a decade ago because of a long-term debt which remains unpaid. According to figures in Zimbabwe’s 2014 national budget, the country owes the European regional bank in excess of 300 million US dollars.

The EIB has sent two missions to Zimbabwe in the past and is due for a third one soon, according to Ambassador Dell’Ariccia.

“The EIB has demonstrated its interest in working in Zimbabwe with the private sector. We already have had two missions and the third one will come soon to see which projects can benefit from credit from the EIB,” he said.

He said the EIB is only permitted to finance projects for the private sector.

EIB officials last visited Zimbabwe in January 2013 to assess funding opportunities.

The EU ambassador said investments by the bank would help ease working capital and liquidity constraints which local industry is battling with.

Local industry requires more than 2.0 billion USD in the short term to bridge funding gaps which have crippled capacity utilisation and resulted in the temporary closure of some firms.

Business leaders from Zimbabwe recently visited the EU to petition the 28-member bloc to lift sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe over a decade ago. The embargo has tainted Zimbabwe’s image as in investment destination and is estimated to have cost the economy more than 42 billion USD.

The EU ambassador said it was not because of the sanctions that the EIB was not lending to the Zimbabwean government but because of the debt.

“The EIB has with Zimbabwe a level of arrears which is above the threshold that permits it to have credit with the government of Zimbabwe. It is not the measures (sanctions) blocking the EIB loans, it’s the debt that Zimbabwe has with the bank,” he said.

In addition to the EIB, Zimbabwe also has outstanding debts with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and African Development Bank (AfDB) among other institutions. The total owed to multilateral institutions is estimated at 2.49 billion USD as at the end of last year.