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International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and particularly the relationship between the IFIs and the United States.
Scott Morris is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and director of the US Development Policy Initiative. This initiative seeks to broaden the US government’s approach to development, including the full range of investment, trade, and technology policies, while also strengthening existing foreign assistance tools. Additionally, he works on issues related to the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and particularly the relationship between the IFIs and the United States. Morris served as deputy assistant secretary for development finance and debt at the US Treasury Department during the first term of the Obama Administration. In that capacity, he led US engagement with the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, African Development Bank, EBRD, and Asian Development Bank. He also represented the US government in the G-20’s Development Working Group and was the Treasury’s “+1” on the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. During his time at Treasury, Morris led negotiations for four general capital increases at the multilateral development banks and replenishments of the International Development Association (IDA), Asian Development Fund, and African Development Fund.
Before his post at the US Treasury, Morris was a senior staff member on the Financial Services Committee in the US House of Representatives, where he was responsible for the Committee’s international policy issues, including the Foreign Investment and National Security Act of 2007 (the landmark reform of the CFIUS process), as well multiple reauthorizations of the US Export-Import Bank charter and approval of a $108 billion financing agreement for the International Monetary Fund in 2009. Previously, Morris was a vice president at the Committee for Economic Development in Washington, DC.
Scott Morris testified before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade at a hearing titled, “Examining Results and Accountability at the World Bank” on March 22, 2017. Morris’s testimony offered recommendations for Congress in effective oversight and influence at the World Bank, as well as discussing what US contributions to the institution deliver for US taxpayers.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the lead US development agency, managing roughly $20 billion in annual appropriations. The agency operates in over 120 countries, including the world’s poorest and most fragile. Its work spans a wide range of sectors, supporting humanitarian relief, economic growth, health, education, and more. USAID’s broad remit reflects the agency’s mission: “We partner to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity."
Treasury’s Office of International Affairs works with other federal agencies, foreign governments, and international financial institutions to strengthen the global economy and foster economic stability. The United States’ international engagement through Treasury supports our national economic and security interests by promoting strong economic governance abroad and bolstering financial sector stability in developing countries. Through Treasury, the United States exercises leadership in international financial institutions where it shapes the global economic and development agenda and leverages US government investments, while tackling poverty and other challenges around the world.
State Department guidance underscores the importance of its work in furthering development: “The surest path to creating more prosperous societies requires indigenous political will; responsive, effective, accountable, and transparent governance; and broad-based, inclusive economic growth. Without this enabling environment, sustained development progress often remains out of reach.”
So it turns out the “skinny budget” released by the White House is really just a press release—a sprinkling of numbers amidst a lot of assertion and characterization of the real budget that is yet to come. When it comes to foreign assistance, the skinny budget doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, with statements that are both confused and confusing.
Following last week’s dramatic joint announcement out of Washington and Havana, many doors are likely to open for Cuba. One priority for the Cuban government should be membership in the multilateral development banks (MDBs).
When President Takehiko Nakao of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) visited CGD earlier last year, he described management’s groundbreaking proposal for a major restructuring of the bank’s financial model that we view as both sensible and creative.
When White House officials decided to talk publicly about a big boost in defense spending and big cuts for EPA, the State Department, and foreign assistance while still deep in their internal negotiation process, they did so for political reasons, making a direct case to voters devoid of any clearly stated policy rationale. It’s been encouraging, and even a little bit surprising, to see strong and quick statements of opposition coming from key Republicans in the Senate and House as well as the military community. But the reality remains that the White House has decided to politicize foreign assistance in a way that we have not seen for over 30 years.
Clare Walsh, a senior official in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the chair of the Development Working Group of the G-20, recently visited CGD for a round-table discussion with CGD senior staff. Afterwards I hosted her and CGD senior associate, Scott Morris, a former senior US Treasury official, on the Wonkcast.
Last year, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) management proposed a major financial restructuring that would increase the amount of bank capital available for investment. This proposal offers many benefits in and of itself. But it also creates an opening for additional and complementary changes in governance that would greatly strengthen the bank and would ensure all of the benefits of the restructuring are fully captured. The merger proposal represents a highly credible down payment by the ADB on a set of innovations that can greatly expand the institution’s ability to respond to the region’s needs and opportunities—and in the process, stimulate similar dynamics at other MDBs.
Researchers urge China to improve their debt practices and adopt standards
Center for Global Development
Washington – China’s Belt and Road Initiative – which plans to invest as much as $8 trillion in infrastructure projects across Europe, Africa, and Asia – raises serious concerns about sovereign debt sustainability in eight countries it funds, according to a new study from the Center for Global Development.
The study evaluated the current and future debt levels of the 68 countries hosting BRI-funded projects. It found that of the 23 countries that are at risk of debt distress today, in eight of those countries, future BRI-related financing will significantly add to the risk of debt distress. You can see the full list of countries, their external debt levels, and China’s portion of that debt in the new study here.
“Belt and Road provides something that countries desperately want – financing for infrastructure,” said John Hurley, a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development and a coauthor of the study. “But when it comes to this type of lending, there can be too much of a good thing.”
According to the study, China’s track record managing debt distress has been problematic, and unlike the world’s other leading government creditors, China has not signed on to a binding set of rules of the road when it comes to avoiding unsustainable lending and addressing debt problems when they arise.
“Our research makes clear that China needs to adopt standards and improve its debt practices – and soon,” said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a coauthor of the paper.
The study recommends that China:
Multilateralize the Belt and Road Initiative: Currently, the multilateral development institutions like the World Bank are lending their reputations to the broader initiative while only seeking to obtain operational standards that will apply to a very narrow slice of BRI projects: those financed by the MDBs themselves. Before going further, the MDBs should work toward a more detailed agreement with the Chinese government when it comes to the lending standards that will apply to any BRI project, no matter the lender.
Consider additional mechanisms to agree to lending standards: Some methods might include a post-Paris Club approach to collective creditor action, implementing a China-led G-20 sustainable financing agenda, and using China’s aid dollars to mitigate risks of default.
In all eight highest risk countries, the proportion of external debt that is owed to China and its banks will rise, sometimes dramatically, under the Belt and Road Initiative:
Pakistan: Pakistan, by far the largest country at high risk, currently projects an estimated $62 billion in additional debt, with China reportedly financing roughly 80 percent of that. Big-ticket BRI projects and the relatively high interest rates being charged by China add to Pakistan’s risk of debt distress.
Djibouti: The most recent IMF assessment stresses the extremely risky nature of Djibouti’s borrowing program, noting that in just two years, public external debt has increased from 50 to 85 percent of GDP, the highest of any low-income country. Much of the debt consists of government-guaranteed public enterprise debt and is owed to China Exim Bank.
Maldives: China is heavily involved in the Maldives’ three most prominent investment projects: an upgrade of the international airport costing around US$830 million, the development of a new population center and bridge near the airport costing around US$400 million, and the relocation of the major port (no cost estimate). The country is considered by the World Bank and the IMF to be at a high risk of debt distress and is currently being buffeted by domestic political turmoil.
Lao, P.D.R. (Laos): Laos, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, has several BRI-linked projects. The largest, a $6.7 billion China-Laos railway, represents almost half the country’s GDP, which led the IMF to warn that the project might threaten the country’s ability to service its debts.
Mongolia: Mongolia’s future economic prosperity depends on major infrastructure investments. Recognizing Mongolia’s difficult situation, China Exim Bank agreed in early 2017 to provide financing under its US$1 billion line of credit at concessional rates for a hydropower project and a highway project. If reports of an additional $30 billion in credit for BRI-related projects over the next five to ten years are true, then the prospect of a Mongolia default is extremely high, regardless of the concessional nature of the financing.
Montenegro: The World Bank estimates that public debt as a share of GDP will climb to a whopping 83 percent in 2018. The source of the problem is one very large infrastructure project, a motorway linking the port of Bar with Serbia that would integrate the Montenegrin transport network with other Baltic countries. The Montenegro authorities concluded an agreement with China Exim Bank in 2014 to finance 85 percent of the estimated US$1 billion cost for the first phase of the project, with the second and third phases likely to lead to default if financing is not provided on highly concessional terms.
Tajikistan: One of the poorest countries in Asia, Tajikistan is already assessed by the IMF and World Bank to be at “high risk” of debt distress. Despite this, it is planning to increase its external debt to pay for infrastructure investments in the power and transportation sectors. Debt to China, Tajikistan’s single largest creditor, accounts for almost 80 percent of the total increase in Tajikistan’s external debt over the 2007-2016 period.
Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan is a relatively poor country with significant new BRI-related infrastructure projects, much of it financed by external debt. China Exim Bank is the largest single creditor, with reported loans by the end of 2016 totaling US$1.5 billion, or roughly 40 percent of the country's total external debt. While currently considered to be at a “moderate” risk of debt distress, Kyrgyzstan remains vulnerable.
The full study, “Examining the Debt Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative from a Policy Perspective” can be found at: https://www.cgdev.org/publication/examining-debt-implications-belt-and-road-initiative-policy-perspective.
Here at CGD, we’re always working on new ideas to stay on top of the rapidly changing global development landscape. Whether it’s examining new technologies with the potential to alleviate poverty, presenting innovative ways to finance global health, assessing changing leadership at international institutions, or working to maximize results in resource-constrained environments, CGD’s experts are at the forefront of practical policy solutions to reduce global poverty and inequality. Get an in-depth look below at their thoughts on the 2018 global development landscape.
As the World Bank makes a case to its shareholders for a capital increase this year, they are grappling with an uncomfortable truth: one of their biggest borrowers, China, happens to hold the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves, is one of the largest recipients of foreign direct investment, enjoys some of the best borrowing terms of any sovereign borrower, and is itself the world’s largest sovereign lender.