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Global creditors agree to debt relief for poor countries affected by pandemic

Frenchman Bruno Le Maire.

Eric Peirmont | AFP | Getty Images

Major international creditors will relieve the world’s poorest countries from paying off their debt this year to help them cope with the coronavirus pandemic that triggered the world’s most brutal downturn since the 1930s, announced Tuesday France.

Finance officials from the United States, China and other major Group of 20 economies are expected to finalize the deal when they meet online on Wednesday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters.

He said some 76 countries, including 40 in sub-Saharan Africa, would be eligible for debt payments worth a combined $ 20 billion suspended by public and private creditors, with the remaining $ 12 billion in payments owed to institutions. multilateral agreements still to be settled.

“We have obtained a moratorium on the debt at the level of bilateral creditors and private creditors for a total of 20 billion dollars,” Le Maire told reporters. He spoke just before the finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of Seven (G-7) met by videoconference on Tuesday and gave their support for the temporary debt relief of the world’s largest countries. poor, provided it is supported by the G-20 and the Parisian Club.

In a joint statement, they said they were ready to grant “a time-limited suspension of debt service payments due on official bilateral claims for all countries eligible for concessional financing from the World Bank”. they were joined by China and other countries in the Top 20 Group. savings, and as agreed with the Paris Club Creditors Group.

Sources familiar with the process had told Reuters this week that they expected the G-20 to approve a suspension of debt payments at least until the end of the year, despite some resistance from the China, which has overtaken the World Bank as the main lender to development countries, especially in Africa.

IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath told Reuters that the deal offered “extremely welcome” relief to the poorest countries, freeing up resources that could be used to improve health systems at a time when the world’s poorest countries. resources are strained by falling commodity prices and massive capital outflows.

World Bank President David Malpass in a tweet thanked US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for hosting the G-7 meeting and supporting his joint call with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva for the status temporary quo of debt.

The World Bank and the IMF have started providing emergency aid to countries struggling to suppress the coronavirus and mitigate its economic impact. They first launched their call for debt relief on March 25, but it was not officially endorsed by the G-20 countries.

The IMF, in its World Economic Outlook 2020, said the pandemic will cause the global economy to contract 3.0%, but warned the impact could be much worse.

Gopinath said the pandemic could be much more severe in developing economies that had yet to see the types of lockdowns already implemented in China, the United States and Europe, adding a “serious downside risk To IMF forecasts.

The forecast provided a grim backdrop for the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, which normally draw 10,000 people to Washington but are being held by video conference this week due to the pandemic.

Debt cancellation

In their statement, G-7 officials also called for more contributions to the IMF’s Containment and Disaster Relief Trust (CCRT) and its Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust Fund, that support the poorest countries. They said the debt relief effort should include private creditors on a voluntary basis, as well as efforts to improve debt transparency.

Western countries have for years demanded more transparency on Chinese government, bank and corporate loans, but Beijing has been reluctant to open its books.

A French finance ministry official said private creditors have voluntarily agreed to roll over or refinance $ 8 billion in the debt of the poorest countries, in addition to the $ 12 billion in debt repayment to suspend by countries.

An additional $ 12 billion is owed to multilateral lenders, primarily the World Bank, Le Maire said, urging these lenders to join the debt relief initiative. The IMF on Monday announced $ 215 million in initial debt relief grants to 25 countries from the CCRT. The trust has around $ 500 million, but the IMF wants to increase it to $ 1.4 billion.

Nonprofit groups, Pope Francis and others are increasingly calling for action on the temporary suspension of debt payments by canceling the debts of the poorest countries.

The AFL-CIO trade union federation and nearly 80 other faith groups on Tuesday urged the US government, the IMF and G-20 countries to cancel debt payments from developing countries and mobilize additional resources to support all countries affected by the rapidly spreading pandemic.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address on Monday that African countries should be helped by “massively canceling their debt”.

He gave no details, but Le Maire said outright debt cancellation should take place on a case-by-case basis and in coordination with multilateral lenders at the end of the year, depending on the situation. economic development of countries as well as the evolution of raw materials. markets and capital flows.


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