UPDATE 1-EBRD agrees on work plan for sub-Saharan Africa expansion - president

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LONDON, July 2 (Reuters) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has agreed on a work plan for expansion into sub-Saharan Africa and expects to make a decision on a possible move in 2022, its president said on Friday.

“Governors also gave us a green light on and agreed on the work plan to continue the exploratory work on possible limited and incremental expansion into sub-Saharan Africa and Iraq,” Odile Renaud-Basso said during a press conference on the final day of the EBRD’s annual meeting.

The EBRD was set up three decades ago to invest in the ex-communist economies of eastern Europe. It now operates in 38 economies, chiefly in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia.

If approved, the bank’s expansion into sub-Saharan Africa, which was originally expected to begin in 2020, would focus on private sector and green energy projects, she said.

The expansion should increase opportunities for countries to get access to funds in a region in which China has been expanding its influence.

After the EBRD agreed in 2020 to Iraq’s request to become a shareholder of the bank, Renaud-Basso said the country’s joining was in progress.

The bank’s board of governors had also decided to not do any more projects in the public sector in Belarus, she said, adding that private sector projects would continue.

The forced landing of a Ryanair passenger plane in Minsk on May 23 to arrest a dissident journalist has sparked sanctions from the European Union, the United States, Canada and the UK.

“We confirmed that we will not do in the future any kind of project in the (Belarus) public sector at large, which means also sub-sovereign, municipalities, public companies, and so forth,” Renaud-Basso said.

The EBRD had stopped fresh financing for sovereign projects completely since last August and also put a de-facto halt to new sub-sovereign projects. (Reporting by Tom Arnold and Elizabeth Howcroft; editing by Karin Strohecker, Robeert Birsel)