Debt around the world – winter 2013

9 December 2013

Below are some developments from the world of global debt over the past few months.

1. The Scottish Government launched its White Paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ on the 26th November. In this, debt relief is highlighted as a priority for international development, with the statement:

“The Scottish Government will give careful consideration to the question of ‘unjust’ debts; will work to ensure that Scottish export politics do not create new unjust debts; and support moves to establish Scotland as an international centre for debt arbitration.”

While remaining neutral on the issue of Scottish independence, Jubilee Scotland is welcoming the Government’s recognition of sovereign debt as a key issue for Scotland’s international development policy. This is a great campaign success. It is recognised however that in either scenario following the referendum Jubilee Scotland’s work must continue to ensure unjust debts are given full consideration through an audit of Scottish and UK debts and a commitment made to cancel all those deemed to be unjust.

Jubilee Scotland’s paper outlining their asks for debt justice in both a yes and no vote, and responses by the Yes Scotland and Better Together campaigns can be found here.

The Scottish Government’s commitment appears in chapter 6 of the white paper.

2. Egypt has been revealed to be the most indebted country in the Middle East and Africa, seventh in the World. (Argentina remains in first place globally as the country least likely to be able to pay its debts.) Egypt’s debts now make up 79.8 percent of its GDP, totalling $234.4 billion which is the equivalent of $2600 for every Egyptian citizen. The likelihood of Egypt being unable to pay its debts has now risen to 37.9 percent. Egypt is a key case for Scotland and the UK with many debts owed by the country being to UK Export Finance for loans made during the Mubarak regime and for arms. Meanwhile, Kuwait plans to buy $2 billion of Egyptian bonds as part of a second aid package having already pledged $15 billion in aid alongside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.

Read more on Egypt’s debts here.

3. Greneda is making plans to lower its income tax threshold on the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and as part of its debt restructuring programme. Grenada is currently seeking to hold a conference with all of its creditors to come to a mutual agreement about how to meet its debt obligations.

4. The IMF Fiscal Monitor Report estimates that Pakistan requires $76.9 billion, the equivalent of 30 percent of its yearly GDP to pay off its existing debts. This places it at the top of the of the list of indebted emerging countries and suggests it is going to find itself borrowing more in order to meet its repayments.

5. Several developing countries, including Jamaica, El Salvador and Pakistan, are failing to meet international development goals after rich countries reneged on a pledge to deal with their debts. Moreover, unjust debts in countries such as Greece, Portugal and Latvia are now increasing poverty at an alarming rate. These findings are part of Jubilee Debt Campaign’s ‘Life and debt: Global studies of debt and resistance‘, published in October 2013. The report compares debt crises in nine countries: Egypt, El Salvador, Greece, Jamaica, Latvia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Portugal and Tunisia.

Key findings include:

  • Jamaica pays more on its foreign debt repayments than Greece at a staggering 33 percent of its revenue.
  • Greece is spending 29 percent on its revenue on debt repayments.
  • El Salvador continues to spend 25% of government revenue on foreign debt payments, the debt originating from lending by the western world to the vicious military junta in the 1980s, whilst hunger and extreme poverty are increasing.
  • Pakistan is unlikely to be able to meet many of the Millennium Development Goals because of its debts, including those aiming to halve the proportion of people going hungry, eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education, and reducing by two-thirds the child mortality rate.

The report also gives inspiring examples of the campaigns in countries for debt justice, for example calls in Tunisia for a debt audit.

6. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 15-17th November 2013, on the issue of debt it was minuted that:

‘Heads welcomed the report of the Commonwealth High Level Mission on the debt and financing challenges of Small States. Heads emphasised the need to continue advancing global awareness of unsustainable Small States’ debt and the accompanying financial challenges they confront, building on the Mission’s recent work. They endorsed the recommendations of the Mission’s Report, underlining the importance of continued collaboration within the international community to address these debt and financing challenges and to build small states’ resilience as well as continued engagement on innovative solutions such as the Mission’s proposals for debt reduction and the inclusion of a vulnerability criterion in debt alleviation interventions and allocation procedures of international financial institutions. Heads reaffirmed their support for the Commonwealth Secretariat’s current debt management and recording work.’

It is reassuring to see sovereign debt maintaining a place on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. The report to which they refer includes recommendations on the need for integration of resilience building of small states, provision of grace periods for debt repayment during times of natural disasters or other external shocks and provision of countercyclical loans. Whilst these are valuable contributions to the pursuit of debt justice, Jubilee Scotland believes these efforts must go further if they are to tackle the unjust economic systems which support existing lending and borrowing principles. Equally, more attention must be paid to the concept of ‘unjust debt’ and its necessary cancellation.

7. The IMF wants Sri Lanka to boost its tax reveunes to cut both its budget deficit and public debts, a further demonstration of the IMF seeking to impose its economic policies on developing countries. Read the full story here.

8. Qatar has agreed to provide $150 million in debt relief to Palestine. This was announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry during Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in October although no further details were provided.

9. A new Eurodad report, ‘The new debt vulnerabilities. 10 reasons why the debt crisis is not over’ was published in November 2013. It finds that debt vulnerabilities have changed, but overall have not been substantially reduced. The number of bank failures has dropped since the height of the financial crisis which is good news. However, the downside is that governments have paid a high price to stabilise the financial sector, and sovereign debt levels have surged. It states that:

Debt has not been canceled or paid off, it has simply been shifted from one balance sheet to another, and primarily from the private purse to public or government coffers.
The opportunity to use the financial crisis for fundamental reforms in nation and international debt management and debt crises prevention and resolution has largely been wasted.

To read a summary of the report and its recommendations as well as download a copy you can visit the Eurodad website.

10. A Bank of England report has criticised existing methods of dealing with sovereign debt crisis. Referring to bailouts in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, the authors say using public money to bail out nations leaves taxpayers shouldering an “inequitable” burden. They suggest that private creditors, those who lent indebted nations the cash in the first place, should instead foot the bill for any rescue.

Whilst acknowledging that current trends in ad hoc bailouts in response to debt crises are poor, the report pays no attention to considering alternative longer-term solutions to debt workout upon which Jubilee Scotland campaigns. It maintains a commitment to bailouts and simply shifts emphasis from public to private rescue plans.

Note: in a disclaimer the report states that the views are not necessarily the official view of the Bank of England, rather the authors of the paper.

11. US American Brooking Institution recently published a new paper on sovereign debt restructuring entitled ‘Revisiting Sovereign Bankruptcy’. It highlights creditors’ role in irresponsible lending, a positive statement in shifting focus away from placing blame on debtor countries for their debt burden. It also promotes the contribution of stakeholders, including NGOs and civicil soviety, in discussions of debt restructuring. Jubilee Scotland welcomes these commitments. On the downside, however, there are only very weak proposals for a reformed scheme. Whilst understanding the need a statutory insolvency framework for sovereign states – a system through which debts can be restructured – rather than presenting alternative ways in which this can be done they point largely only to a wide range of challenges which are presented.

Read a full account written by Jürgen Kaiser of Erlassjahr, a Eurodad member and a partner organisation of Jubilee Scotland.

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