G20 may only offer poorest countries 6 more months of debt relief

An initiative that allows poor countries to suspend payments on official bilateral debt owed to G20 creditors until the end of 2020 may not get the year-long extension it seeks.

David Malpass
World Bank President David Malpass attends the "1+6" Roundtable meeting at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China November 21, 2019 [Florence Lo/Reuters]

Some G20 creditor countries are reluctant to broaden and extend another year of coronavirus debt service relief to the world’s poorest countries, so a six-month compromise may emerge this week, World Bank President David Malpass said on Monday.

Malpass, speaking to reporters as the World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s virtual annual meetings get under way, said G20 debt working groups have not reached agreement on the two institutions’ push for a year-long extension of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).

“I think there may be compromise language that may be a six-month extension [and] that it can be renewed depending on debt sustainability,” Malpass said.

Finance ministers and central bank governors from the G20 major economies are scheduled to meet by videoconference on Wednesday. In May, they launched an initiative to allow poor countries to suspend payments on official bilateral debt owed to G20 creditor countries until the end of 2020, which Malpass said has freed up $5bn to bolster coronavirus responses so far.

Malpass and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva have been warning that far more debt relief is needed for low- and middle-income countries, including principal reduction, to avoid a “lost decade” as the pandemic destroys economic activity.

Malpass said the two institutions would propose a joint action plan to reduce the debt stock for poor countries with unsustainable debts.

But he said debtor nations needed to more strongly demand debt relief for more progress to be made.

“Leaders of the debtor nations have been deferential to the creditors,” Malpass said. “It’s been very important that leaders of poorest nations speak up and speak out about the need for a lighter debt burden from the creditor nations. That dialogue hasn’t been as robust yet as I think is necessary to move this process along.”

A new World Bank debt study published on Monday showed that among countries eligible for the G20 debt relief programme, external debt climbed 9.5 percent in 2019 to $744bn before the pandemic hit.

The poorest countries’ official bilateral debt to G20 countries reached $178bn in 2019, with 63 percent of the total owed to China. The study said China’s share of this debt stood at 45 percent in 2013, the year Beijing launched its global Belt and Road infrastructure drive.

Source: Reuters