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The G20 fails to reduce the debt of poor countries

G20 updates

Support to the world’s poorest countries in the form of debt suspension of the G20 group of rich countries is well below what was expected at the start of the coronavirus crisis, with just $ 5.3 billion in bilateral debt repayments due to be suspended so far this year.

This is far less than the $ 11.5 billion or more expected from official creditors; furthermore, no country has demanded similar treatment from private creditors, despite strong encouragement from the G20 and debt activists.

The G20 released the figure after a meeting of its finance ministers and central bank governors on Saturday, to a scathing response.

David Malpass, president of the World Bank, criticized the group for its lack of debt relief and said more needed to be done.

World Bank data shows that the 73 countries eligible for the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) launched in May could delay payments worth $ 11.5 billion this year, and 41 countries have so far requested to do so, for a total of $ 8.8 billion.

This flies in the face of the G20 statement that 42 countries have asked to defer payments worth $ 5.3 billion. Of this amount, nearly $ 2 billion will be reported by China alone, according to a breakdown of the figures seen by the Financial Times.

The total does not include loans from the Development Bank of China, according to the breakdown document, which said that “China encourages CBD to participate in DSSI [as a commercial creditor] under comparable conditions ”.

Mr. Malpass said that “all official bilateral creditors, including domestic banks, should implement the DSSI in a transparent manner. For example, the full participation of the Development Bank of China as an official bilateral creditor is important for the initiative to work.

He said the G20 should do more to ensure transparency and consistent treatment, to “avoid the ongoing secret rescheduling in some countries, such as Angola and Laos, often with undisclosed deadlines and grace conditions.” .

He also urged the G20 to extend the DSSI until next year and move beyond the suspension of debt service and “open the door to consultations on the debt overhang itself and effective means. reduce the net present value of bilateral and commercial public debt for the poorest. countries.”

If so, it would almost certainly make bilateral debt relief conditional on similar treatment by private creditors, which many sovereign borrowers have been reluctant to seek for fear of damaging their creditworthiness and therefore their access to markets. international capital.

Emerging market governments have raised nearly $ 90 billion by selling bonds in global markets since April 1, according to the Institute of International Finance, often at lower interest rates than those available before the outbreak. coronavirus thanks to the trillions of dollars injected into capital markets by the US Federal Reserve and other advanced economies central banks.

Debt activists have reacted with dismay to the G20 statement and the World Bank’s response.

“I am surprised that the World Bank, as one of the stewards of global development, is not seized by a greater sense of urgency,” said Gayle Smith, president of One Campaign and former special assistant to the president Barack Obama.

She said the Bank was taking more debt repayments from poor countries than it was disbursing in emergency loans and should join bilateral creditors in freezing debt service. She also criticized the lack of transparency and confusion over the amounts of debt benefiting from the G20 initiative.

“If I was in my old seat I would be tempted to ask what’s going on in the name of God if we can’t even pin down the numbers,” she said. “As if we needed another reminder that the world doesn’t act globally, here’s another.”

A G20 spokesperson said more debt relief deals could still be reached, so the eventual total amount could be higher.

This article has been edited after publication to note that total debt relief may increase.

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