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The latest G20 finance ministers meeting concluded with no major progress on debt relief for the world’s poorest countries, and a few setbacks. To date, no country eligible for the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative has requested a moratorium on their private sector debt. We are at an impasse.
Rather than providing relief on repayments from existing loans, IDA’s debt sustainability framework adjusts future financing from loans to grants for countries at high risk of debt distress. But what happens to IDA’s loans-to-grants model when a large number of IDA countries trigger the risk thresholds? Can IDA afford its commitment to debt sustainability?
The G20 is calling on commercial creditors to follow their lead and extend a moratorium on their debt. But if past is precedent external commercial debt could be shaping up to be major fault line in the debt relief process moving forward.
In new research, we find that China’s role as a creditor has likely been a key driver of more burdensome lending terms in the form of higher interest rates, shorter maturities, and shorter grace periods for lower-income countries.
Debt relief for low-income countries is on the table of measures to consider for coronavirus response. The imperative right now is to get cash to LICs as quickly as possible. Suspending some debt service payments may be a good first step in freeing up some budget space for new spending. Beyond that, protracted debt-relief negotiations with multilateral and commercial creditors right now could be a distraction at best but could also actively undermine the ability of institutions like the World Bank to offer new financing for crisis response.
The experience of the 2007 global financial crisis can tell us a few things about how low-income countries could be affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the near term, even as we recognize that the myriad economic problems created by the pandemic are almost certainly greater in number and scale than the problems in 2007.
Concerns about rising debt risks in developing economies were front and center at the annual meetings. HIPC is a useful reference point as we talk about a new round of debt crises. But thanks to the rise of China as a lender, the creditor community today looks much different from the HIPC creditor community—with implications for any resolution to a debt crisis.