Coronavirus: G20 suspends debt payments for poorest countries

Finance ministers of world’s biggest economies to delay payments for poorest nations starting May 1 through year end.

G20 Minister
German Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz awaits the start of the video conference of the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors, who agreed on Wednesday to halt the debt payments of the world's poorest countries until end of 2020 [Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]

Financial officials of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies have said they agreed on a coordinated approach for a suspension of debt service payments for the world’s poorest countries starting on May 1 until the end of the year.

Wednesday’s decision to suspend both principal repayments and interest payments affects all the International Development Association (IDA) countries that are currently on debt service to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and all least developed countries as defined by the United Nations that are currently on any debt service to the IMF and the World Bank.

The move is part of efforts to provide stimulus amid the new coronavirus outbreak, which they warn is pushing the global economy into the steepest downturn since the Great Depression.

“We agreed on a coordinated approach with a common term sheet providing the key features for this debt service suspension initiative, which is also agreed by the Paris Club,” the G20 said in a joint statement.

They also called on private creditors to participate in the initiative “on comparable terms”.

IMF director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank chief David Malpass on Wednesday praised the new G20 debt relief agreement, which suspends bilateral debt service payments by poor countries.

Georgieva in a statement to a meeting of G20 leaders also said the IMF was “urgently” seeking some $18bn in new resources for the Fund’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust for poor countries and was exploring how the use of special drawing rights could aid this effort.

Some international aid and development organisations also stressed that suspending debt payments during a major global economic and health emergency may not be enough to fight the crises.  

“Debt forgiveness is crucial. That is why it is urgent to permanently cancel 2020 debt payments due rather than having them simply suspended and kicked down the road,” Nadia Daar, head of Oxfam International’s Washington, DC, Office, told Al Jazeera. 

“However, even if all creditors do that – which is essential – more will be needed in the coming months and years ahead to ensure enough can be spent on fighting this virus which hits the poorest people in the poorest countries hardest,” Daar added. 

The debt suspension will last until the end of the year but creditors will consider a possible extension during 2020, the G20 said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies