With the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic came a drastic slow in economic activity and collapse in government revenue, prompting a widespread increase in both government and private debt levels. Currently, at the beginning of 2021, with no concrete prediction for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and the private sector continue to accumulate great foreign currency debt. There is a steady increase in government loans for funding and there has been at least a 20% reduction in 2020 remittances from global citizens and diasporas. Developing nations report skyrocketing borrowing needs that are usually that advanced economies can usually only manage. Additionally, central bank purchases of corporate bonds to boost the money supply of local firms have stifled the debt ratings of local firms in emerging markets and developing economies. As a result, our world is facing rising budget pressures, which a wave of sovereign debt downgrades that are likely to lead to a post-pandemic debt crisis are accompanying.
Context and the Role of the IMF
In comparison to the end of 2019, in addition to already unusually elevated figures and debt distress, expectations have determined that 2021 debt ratios will increase by 20% GDP in advanced economies, 10% in emerging market economies and 7% in low-income economies. Unfortunately, the emerging and developing world have much smaller borrowing capacities, and so for some, a post-pandemic debt crisis appears imminent.
In the past, debt crises have set the global economy into long-lasting instability. In order to prevent such an economic downfall on top of a global health crisis, many of the leading international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have prepared to help keep nations afloat. While the IMF has provided over $30 billion in emergency funding to its member countries in a response to the pandemic, it has also given direct attention to implementing measures that contribute to debt-service relief. Here are some of these measures.
4 Measures to Contribute to Debt-Service Relief
- Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT): Undergoing establishment in 2015 as a response to the Ebola outbreak and receiving modification in March 2020 for the COVID-19 pandemic, CCRT allows the IMF to provide grant funding for debt relief to the poorest and most vulnerable nations that a natural disaster or public health crises have hit. The purpose of the CCRT is to aid eligible low-income member countries to meet the balance of payment needs that disasters create. This stops the reassigning of resources to debt service, preventing a post-pandemic debt crisis.
- Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI): In a collaboration between the IMF Managing Director and the President of the World Bank, a call emerged for the bilateral creditors to suspend debt service payments from the poorest member countries until the end of 2020, extended to June 2021. Accepted in April 2020, this debt suspension allows 73 low and lower-middle-income countries to temporarily receive relief from their debt service payments. In addition to releasing the countries’ resources to COVID-19 relief, this initiative prompted the International Institute of Finance (IIF) to also call for private-sector creditors to grant debt payments forbearance to their debtors in a similar way. Many private firms have volunteered to aid in debt relief as a result.
- Short Term Liquidity Line (SLL): With the increase in global uncertainty, the IMF has established a short-term liquidity line (SLL) with the unique design of being a liquidity backstop for its member countries who have superior policy and fundamentals, but are in need of increased immediate liquidity needs as a result of the external shocks that came with this global pandemic. This liquidity line has a lower cost structure than other typical IMF lines of liquidity such as the Flexible Credit Line (FCL). This allows for a country to retain cost savings relative to reserves, and benefits related to lower yields on public debt.
- Capacity Development: In addition to its financial support, the IMF is also offering real-time policy guidance and capacity development to more than 160 of its 190 member countries. This advice is for specifically navigating debt management strategies, cash management, financial supervision, cybersecurity and economic governance through the pandemic. The IMF has collaborated with tax administrations and budget officers to restore and support halted or slowed business operations. It has also launched online learning platforms available to government officials, members and the general public for the widespread reach of solutions to aid in economic recovery during and post-pandemic.
Cause for Optimism
With the measures above, as well as the collaborative effort of the entire globe, according to the IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, “the global economy is beginning to climb back from the depths of the crisis, but this calamity is far from over.”
Thankfully, the IMF continues to show its commitment to providing financial support, capacity development and debt relief, especially for its poorest, most affected and vulnerable member countries in this unprecedented time, as the world works to stave off an impending debt crisis.
– Rebecca Harris