UAE-based Emirates Aluminium (Emal) has asked banks to respond to invitations to finance a $700m loan backed by export credit agencies (ECAs) by the end of March.

Emal and its adviser on the project, US-based Citigroup, sent out the invitations to banks at the beginning of March. The approach is understood to have mainly gone out to banks involved in financing the $4.9bn first phase of the project in December 2007.

The deal will be used to complete construction of phase one of the smelter, and is part of Emal’s plans to raise additional funding to replace a $2bn bond issue that never took place due to the financial crisis.

Emal is still in talks with several ECAs about finalising their commitments to the project. ECAs involved include Export Import Bank of the US (US Exim), which is looking to make a direct loan to the project, and France’s Coface and Germany’s Hermes, which will provide guarantees on loans provided by banks.

Emal is also in talks with a group of banks about appointing an adviser for the $5bn second phase expansion of the project. The banks include the UK’s HSBC, Frances’ BNP Paribas, and Citigroup.