The House Banking Committee's subcommittee on domestic and international monetary policy last week approved an administration request to grant a four-year extension of the U.S. Export-Import Bank's charter, to Sept. 30, 2001.

The Ex-Im Bank helps finance and guarantee nearly $15 billion worth of exports by U.S. companies.

Bankers, who had earlier expressed fears that opposition in Congress would block approval of the request, welcomed the decision. But they noted that it is only the first of a series of legislative hurdles that must be surmounted in Congress.

A similar request to renew the charter of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. has yet to be considered, and the Senate has yet to begin its own debate on the Ex-Im Bank bill. The bill is slated next to go to the House Banking Committee for consideration, most likely in June. Along with renewal of the charter, the administration has requested $632 million in appropriations to fund Ex-Im Bank credits and guarantees.

"I'm highly encouraged by last week's subcommittee markup," said Mary Candeelis, executive director of the Bankers Association for Foreign Trade. "But we still have a long way to go, particularly on the House floor."

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