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The spectacle of U.S. politicians pushing the country to the brink of default is likely to have lingering effects on global financial markets and hence on development, the eleventh-hour compromise notwithstanding. In the near-term, however, the main issue is the U.S. economic slump and the increased likelihood that the world’s biggest economy will fall back into recession.
Recently the Latin American Shadow Financial Regulatory Committee (CLAAF), over which I preside, held its bi-annual meeting at CGD and issued its 24th statement. Among the CLAAF members that participated were several renowned economists, including Guillermo Calvo, Carmen Reinhart, Pablo Guidotti, Guillermo Ortiz and Roque Fernandez.
What everyone was expecting is now official. On July 9th, South Sudan will become the world’s newest country. But while the date is certain, there are still plenty of details to be worked out. There is no deal as of yet on sharing Sudan’s oil wealth, or on its nearly $40 billion in external debt. Successful resolution of the debt issue acceptable to both north and south and the international community is crucial to the success of the new nation and to avoiding a resumption of the long and bloody civil war.
Twelve months after the devastating earthquake, some of the fresh ideas CGD policy experts proposed to help Haiti through non-aid channels have gained traction, while others remain relevant, but have yet to be tried. The anniversary is a time to revisit progress and shine a light on untapped opportunities to assist Haitians in their reconstruction efforts through U.S. policies on trade, debt, migration, and more:
With short term U.S. treasury paper paying zero percent, where in the world can you get 14.7%? Cote d’Ivoire. The yield on Ivorian Eurobonds spiked on fears of a resumption of civil war and prospects of a default on a payment due December 31st. Bondholders are right to worry.
Sudan’s crippling debt burden can be compared to an enormous onion – the story gets more and more complex as you begin peeling back the various layers. Yesterday, we wrote about Sudan’s two largest creditors – Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. But, there are countless other surprises beneath the surface. Here are three more: Austria, Denmark, and Belgium. These are not countries that one would automatically associate with Sudan. But, they are some of its largest creditors – collectively holding roughly $4.5 billion in claims.
Two countries alone hold over 25 percent of Sudan’s crippling $35 billion debt burden. I’ll give you three guesses at who they might be. China? United States? France? All would be reasonable choices. But, they also would be wrong. In fact, Sudan’s two largest creditors are Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Sudan owes the Kuwaiti government roughly $6 billion and the Saudi Government over $3 billion. Despite a flurry of recent loans, China is only number five on the list. These rankings represent more than monetary values owed – rather, they illustrate who will have the most important voices around the debt workout table when the time comes.
As the Cote d’Ivoire standoff moves into Day Ten, pressure is mounting on Laurent Gbagbo who lost the election to Alassane Ouattara but refuses to stand down. The African Union and ECOWAS have suspended the country, and the United States and Europe have each threatened Gbagbo with financial sanctions, asset freezes, and travel bans unless he relents.
As cash becomes scarce and the junta more desperate, Gbagbo and his inner circle might try to quickly borrow money or start a fire sale. This would not only provide fuel for potential conflict, but also saddle the Ouattara government with new debts once they get in the seat. One additional way of squeezing Gbagbo and avoiding this outcome is contract sanctions, as proposed in the recent report of CGD’s Prevention of Odious Debt Working Group led by John Williamson, Michael Kremer, and Seema Jayachandran.
Next week, President Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and other global leaders will meet with Sudanese leadership to discuss the upcoming referendum. The stakes are huge. In January, southern Sudanese will vote on whether to secede and launch a new, independent country. It’s hard to imagine them not supporting the breakaway vote given their decades’ long fight for independence. Roughly 2 million people died in that struggle. The multi-million dollar question is – what will Khartoum do? Will they let the referendum happen? Will it be fair and transparent? If so, will they respect the results? The meeting next week will grapple with these critical issues.