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IMF chief urges faster debt restructurings during visit to China

IMF chief urges faster debt restructurings during visit to China
Activists with Shutdown DC ride their bikes in front of DAR Constitution Hall on 12 October 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The world urgently needs faster and more efficient processes for restructuring debts of vulnerable countries, the International Monetary Fund’s chief said on a visit to China, a country that many fellow fund members including the US accuse of blocking advances.

Speaking at the Boao Forum on Thursday, Kristalina Georgieva underlined the importance of “countries in a relatively stronger position helping the vulnerable members of our global community”.

The IMF forecasts China’s GDP growth will accelerate to 5.2% this year, one of the fastest expansion rates in the world. At the same time, 60% of low-income countries are at or near a debt crisis, many owing billions of dollars to Beijing, as faster inflation, higher US interest rates and a stronger dollar increase their borrowing costs.

“Establishing such mechanisms would provide significant benefits to debtors and creditors alike,” Georgieva said in prepared remarks. “Success would remove one important source of uncertainty to the global picture.”

While she said that China’s engagement in the so-called Common Framework to reorganise debt and the Global Sovereign Debt Roundtable are “very much welcome”, a number of western nations including the US, the IMF’s largest shareholder, have accused Beijing of dragging its feet in providing relief. The issue is set to feature prominently at the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings next month.

China — the largest bilateral creditor country to developing countries — has prevented progress on Zambia’s debt talks with its call for loans from multilateral development banks and domestic creditors to be included in the country’s restructuring. The US and other countries have rejected such proposals.

Zambia is participating in the Common Framework, the Group of 20’s roadmap that brings together the Paris Club of mostly western traditional creditor countries with newer lenders such as China, India and Saudi Arabia to restructure struggling nations’ debt on a case-by-case basis.

Along with the World Bank and Group of 20 chair India, the IMF has organised the sovereign debt roundtable with the hope of fixing the bottlenecks that have prevented quick restructuring of the debt of fragile nations.

Georgieva also warned that a potential fragmentation in global trade would have consequences for the economy, with Asia the most affected region.

The long-term costs from a disruption to global trade could be as high as 7% of global gross domestic product, equivalent to the combined annual output of Germany and Japan, she said.

“As a highly integrated region, Asia would be the most adversely affected by runaway fragmentation,” Georgieva said.

She spoke against the backdrop of tensions between the US and China that have seen the nations in recent years hit each other with tariffs on billions of dollars in goods. The Biden administration increasingly uses export controls to limit China’s access to leading-edge technology, and is developing rules to analyse and potentially prohibit US investment in sensitive Chinese industries.

Meanwhile, China’s trade with Russia has surged since the US and European Union moved to cut off imports of oil, gas and coal over the past year to deprive President Vladimir Putin of funding the war wage in Ukraine. President Xi Jinping has stoked concern in the west with his recent visit to Putin, as well as China’s frequent threats to invade Taiwan. BM/DM

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