Why securing debt forgiveness for poor countries is so hard
Governments in many poor countries have faced a sickening choice this year , between spending to support their populations through the covid-19 crisis and paying creditors. On October 14th finance ministers of the g20 group of countries offered a temporary salve for 73 of the world’s neediest countries, by saying they would extend their Debt Service Suspension Initiative (dssi) to halt debt-service payments until July 2021. That should free up funds to fight the pandemic (see chart). But a lasting solution will take more dramatic action.
Public debt in poor countries rose from 29% of gdp in 2012 to 43% in 2019, according to the imf, and is expected to jump to 49% this year. Collapsing tax revenues and swollen deficits make it harder to pay the bills and give foreign investors the jitters. According to data from the World Bank and the three largest credit-rating agencies, at least 33 of the dssi-eligible countries were either close to or in debt distress—ie, struggling to meet their repayment obligations. The 73 countries eligible for the dssi were due to spend over $31bn servicing debt between May and December. About half of this was owed by the 33 countries under most fiscal strain, which include Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia.
根据国际货币基金组织的数据，贫穷国家的国债占GDP 的比例从2012年的29%上升至2019年的43%，预计今年将跃升至49% 。崩溃的税收和膨胀的财政赤字使偿还债务变得困难，并且让国外投资者感到不安。根据世界银行和三大信用评级机构的数据，在符合DSSI资格的国家中，至少有33家要么接近债务危机，要么处在债务危机中——正在履行偿债义务。今年5-12月，符合DSSI资格的73个国家应支付超过310亿美元用于偿还债务。其中大约有一半是由33个财政压力最大的国家所欠，包括埃塞俄比亚、莫桑比克和赞比亚。
If a wave of sovereign defaults has been avoided, it is because central banks have lowered interest rates and international financial institutions have doled out emergency funds. But neither these nor the dssi, which only suspends debt-service payments, can fix longer-term solvency problems. Where these exist the best solution is probably a quick debt restructuring in order to avoid disorderly defaults. The underwhelming experience of the dssi helps illustrate why speedy restructuring could be devilishly difficult to achieve. So far only around $5bn of debt-service payments between May and December this year have been suspended.
如果一波主权债务被豁免了，那是因为各国央行降低了利率以及国际金融机构发放了应急资金。但是这些和DSSI 都只能延缓债务偿还，而不能解决长期偿债能力问题。目前最好的解决办法可能就是迅速进行债务重组，以避免无需违约。DSSI 给人印象不深的经历可以帮助解释为什么快速债务重组可能极难实现。到目前为止，只有今年5-12月间的约 50亿美元债务偿还被暂停。
One difficulty was that struggling borrowers were wary of signing up, in case they worsened their financial position. The g20 encouraged private creditors, which were owed another $5bn between May and December, to participate, but found that poor countries worried that rating downgrades might ensue. Some fretted that approaching even official creditors would be taken badly by rating agencies. “We would certainly ask why they needed to avail themselves of that option,” says Tony Stringer of Fitch, a rating agency.
其中一个困难是，陷入困境的借款人对签约十分谨慎，以防他们的财务状况恶化。20国集团鼓励个人债权人参与（在5-12月之间，私人债券又被拖欠50亿美元），但是发现贫穷国家担心评级可能会随之下调。一些人担心，即便是接近官方的债权人仍然会被评级机构严苛对待。评级机构 Fitch 的 Tony Stringer说道：”我们肯定会问，为什么他们需要把自己置于这种选择之下“
Then there was the matter of getting other lenders on board. The “Paris Club” of mostly rich-country governments was once important enough to call the shots in any restructuring. But by the end of 2019, the strained 33 owed around a quarter of their public debt to China, which is not in the club. And although China signed up to the dssi on paper, and has been one of the biggest providers of relief, in practice it has wriggled out of offering the same terms as other countries.
Definitions of private and official creditors are “manipulable, manipulated, and totally beside the point”, says Anna Gelpern of Georgetown University. What matters is that creditors are treated equally, so that they can agree on restructuring quickly without suspecting that their own sacrifice may be lining other creditors’ pockets.
Georgetown 大学的 Anna Gelpern 说，对私人和官方债权人的定义是”可操纵、可被操控的，而且完全脱离核心问题了“。重要的是，债权人能够得到平等对待，这样他们就能够迅速就重组达成一致，而不会怀疑他们自己的奉献会让其它债权人中饱私囊。
The extension to the dssi might suggest that lenders are trying to put off difficult questions around restructuring. Encouragingly, though, the g20 also said that it had agreed in principle on a “common framework” for debt restructuring, which could ensure that g20 creditors and the private sector are treated alike. The details are yet to be hammered out before a summit in November.
将 DSSI 的范围扩大，可能表明，贷款机构正在尝试拖延围绕重组的棘手问题。不过，令人鼓舞的是，G20还说他们已经就债务重组在原则上达成了一个”共同框架“，这将确保G20债权人和私人受到同样的对待。具体细节还有待在11月的峰会前敲定。