Sovereign debtors, creditors agree on steps to jumpstart debt restructurings
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Global creditors, debtor nations and international financial institutions on Wednesday agreed ways to jumpstart and streamline long-stalled debt restructuring efforts, including through improved data sharing and clearer timetables.
The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and India, current president of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies, issued a joint statement after the first full-fledged meeting of the new Global Sovereign Debt Roundtable, held during the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington.
The statement, however, did not include mentions of any commitments by China, the world’s largest bilateral creditor, to speed the restructuring process.
Reuters reported Beijing was poised to drop its demand that multilateral development banks share in debt restructuring losses, partly in exchange for the IMF and World Bank providing earlier access to their debt sustainability analyses for countries receiving debt treatments.
But the statement only included the institutions’ part of that bargain, to share more information more quickly and for multilateral development banks (MDBs) to quantify “net positive flows” of concessional financing in restructuring cases.
IMF strategy chief Ceyla Pazarbasioglu said China and other participants had acknowledged that there are different ways of contributing to a restructuring, and “the best way for MDBs to contribute … is to provide fresh financing to countries, as much as possible in grant terms.”
“That was the key deliverable, and I think this consensus around the table will also allow and facilitate quicker agreement in terms of the individual debt cases,” she said in a video interview taped by the IMF.
The statement said participants “focused on the actions that can be taken now to accelerate debt restructuring processes and make them more efficient, including under the G20 Common Framework.”
The meeting came amid ongoing delays in finalizing debt treatment agreements for Zambia, Ghana and Ethiopia under the G20 Common Framework, although Pazarbasioglu on Wednesday said she hoped for “good news” on Zambia’s case next week.
U.S. officials and others blame the delays largely on foot-dragging by China, now the world’s largest bilateral creditor, and reluctance by private-sector creditors to join in.
Ghana, Zambia and Ethiopia are at various stages of the process, but debt experts say China’s recent agreement to provide specific financing assurances for Sri Lanka, a middle income country that was not eligible under the G20 framework, could be a positive sign for the other cases.
Zambia’s Treasury Secretary Felix Nkulukusa told a panel hosted by the Open Society Foundations that Chinese officials had told Zambia they would not insist that MDBs accept debt reductions, but wanted them to participate on a “fair basis.”
He said most of the outstanding issues with China had been resolved in Zambia’s specific case, making him hopeful a solution could be reached soon, but the roundtable should help resolve broader issues on debt relief facing other countries.
The statement said participants agreed on the need to urgently improve data-sharing on macroeconomic projections and debt sustainability assessments in debt relief cases, resolving a frustration frequently voiced by China about not being looped in early enough in the process.
It said the IMF and World Bank would rapidly issue staff guidance to ensure more timely data-sharing.
Participants also discussed the role of multilateral development banks (MDBs) in debt restructuring processes through their provision of “net positive flows” of concessional finance, and welcomed the implicit debt relief provided by the World Bank’s International Development Association arm through low interest or zero-interest loans and grants, the statement said.
They agreed meet to again in coming weeks on the comparability of treatment of creditors, and would work on principles for cut-off dates, suspending debt payments at the beginning of the process, how to treat arrears, and the perimeter of restructured debt, including domestic debt.
“This work will also help in clarifying potential timetables to accelerate debt restructurings,” the statement said.
Separately, Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said Japan, France and India will announce a new platform for creditors to coordinate restructuring of Sri Lanka’s debt, adding it would be “very nice” if China were to join the effort.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; additional reporting by David Lawder and Leika Kihara; Editing by Dan Burns,d Chris Reese and Simon Cameron-Moore)