Developing countries in the stranglehold of debt

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Pakistan 2.55 Kazakhstan 1.61 Sao Tome & Principe 2.89 Kosovo 2.52 Sri Lanka 2.95 Maldives 1.96 Zambia 2.08

With the trade war between the United States and China and the general slow-down in growth accentuated by the multidimensional Covid-19 crisis, commodity prices have continued to fall dramatically during the 1st half of 2020. In the second half of 2020 oil prices remained very low while prices of other commodities increased slightly.

  4. DCs’ repayment calendar

The amounts that the DCs must repay are particularly high and the effects of the crisis will increase them even more in the coming years. (Obviously the table below cannot show this.) Governments are increasing public debt to alleviate the drastic situation of the year 2020.



Graph 3: DCs’ repayment of public external debt – 2007-2027 (in $ billion))

Graph 3 shows the amounts paid by the DCs by type of creditor:

  • In blue: bilateral creditors
  • In yellow: multilateral creditors
  • In red: IMF
    IMF
    International Monetary Fund

    Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

    When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

    As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

    The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
    The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

    http://imf.org


    loans (no available data after 2020)
  • In green: private creditors. Dark green represents the amounts due for sovereign debt
    Sovereign debt
    Government debts or debts guaranteed by the government.
    bonds; khaki represents repayments of bank loans; light green payments due to other kinds of private creditors.

A considerable increase of payments can be seen between 2007 and 2020, with an increasing share
Share
A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings.
allocated to repaying loans issued in the form of sovereign debt bonds. In 2015, with the fall in commodity prices (which became much worse for oil prices in 2020), the rise in interest rates
Interest rates
When A lends money to B, B repays the amount lent by A (the capital) as well as a supplementary sum known as interest, so that A has an interest in agreeing to this financial operation. The interest is determined by the interest rate, which may be high or low. To take a very simple example: if A borrows 100 million dollars for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of 5%, the first year he will repay a tenth of the capital initially borrowed (10 million dollars) plus 5% of the capital owed, i.e. 5 million dollars, that is a total of 15 million dollars. In the second year, he will again repay 10% of the capital borrowed, but the 5% now only applies to the remaining 90 million dollars still due, i.e. 4.5 million dollars, or a total of 14.5 million dollars. And so on, until the tenth year when he will repay the last 10 million dollars, plus 5% of that remaining 10 million dollars, i.e. 0.5 million dollars, giving a total of 10.5 million dollars. Over 10 years, the total amount repaid will come to 127.5 million dollars. The repayment of the capital is not usually made in equal instalments. In the initial years, the repayment concerns mainly the interest, and the proportion of capital repaid increases over the years. In this case, if repayments are stopped, the capital still due is higher…

The nominal interest rate is the rate at which the loan is contracted. The real interest rate is the nominal rate reduced by the rate of inflation.
(especially loans in the form of sovereign bonds) and the global slowdown in economic growth, 9 DCs defaulted on their payments. [6]

Slowly but surely the debt trap is closing on a growing number of DCs

As of 2020, note that the data are minimal projections, which are likely to increase. However the amounts are already considerable. You can see how the part owed in the form of sovereign bond
Bond
A bond is a stake in a debt issued by a company or governmental body. The holder of the bond, the creditor, is entitled to interest and reimbursement of the principal. If the company is listed, the holder can also sell the bond on a stock-exchange.
repayments tends to increase. As well as the factors mentioned, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will need to be taken into account.

Because of the pandemic, the G20
G20
The Group of Twenty (G20 or G-20) is a group made up of nineteen countries and the European Union whose ministers, central-bank directors and heads of state meet regularly. It was created in 1999 after the series of financial crises in the 1990s. Its aim is to encourage international consultation on the principle of broadening dialogue in keeping with the growing economic importance of a certain number of countries. Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, USA, UK and the European Union (represented by the presidents of the Council and of the European Central Bank).
countries have granted a moratorium on repayments of the bilateral part for the period from May 2020 to April 2021. This moratorium may be extended to the end of 2021. The operation consists of postponing payments on the bilateral part owed in 2020 (and perhaps 2021) to between 2022 and 2026. So those amounts would be added to the repayments already scheduled for those four years and would make it even harder to find the money. Although 73 countries were selected, [7] only 46 countries have actually participated in this debt service
Debt service
The sum of the interests and the amortization of the capital borrowed.
suspension initiative (DSSI). [8] Why so few? There are two reasons. The first concerns the inadequacy of the measure which simply postpones payment of a mere 1.6 % of the DCs’ external public debt; and the second is that they are blackmailed by the private creditors and the credit rating agencies
Rating agency
Rating agencies

Rating agencies, or credit-rating agencies, evaluate creditworthiness. This includes the creditworthiness of corporations, nonprofit organizations and governments, as well as ‘securitized assets’ – which are assets that are bundled together and sold, to investors, as security. Rating agencies assign a letter grade to each bond, which represents an opinion as to the likelihood that the organization will be able to repay both the principal and interest as they become due. Ratings are made on a descending scale: AAA is the highest, then AA, A, BBB, BB, B, etc. A rating of BB or below is considered a ‘junk bond’ because it is likely to default. Many factors go into the assignment of ratings, including the profitability of the organization and its total indebtedness. The three largest credit rating agencies are Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings (FT).

Moody’s : https://www.fitchratings.com/
, the latter indicating that countries applying for a moratorium risk seeing rating agencies downgrading their rating, thus losing their access to the finance markets. [9] In other words, the creditors promise to increase interest
Interest
An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set.
rates for those countries, while the rating agencies threaten to limit their possibilities of obtaining finance on the money markets. As a consequence, those countries will find themselves having to repay a greater amount with fewer resources. Returning to Table 1, such economic circumstances look like bringing back negative net transfers for the DCs; in other words, they will find themselves repaying more money than they are getting in the form of new loans.

The debt trap is closing slowly but surely on a growing number of DCs.

 5. Other factors aggravated by Covid-19

Although the Covid-19 crisis cannot be blamed for all the economic difficulties countries are going through, it certainly has played a role in intensifying unprecedented financial speculation by the sheer extent of it, as well as a decrease in production from mid-2019 in economies as big as those of Germany and the United States. [10] Finance vacillated significantly in Wall Street in Autumn 2019 [11] and again in February-March 2020 with the generalization of lockdown followed by massive intervention on the part of the central banks. [12] The crisis which has spread catastrophically since March 2020 will have long-term consequences in terms of job losses, loss of revenue and difficulty in meeting debt payments.

Although the Covid-19 crisis cannot be blamed for all the economic difficulties countries are going through, it certainly has played a role in intensifying unprecedented financial speculation by the sheer extent of it, as well as a decrease in production from mid-2019 in economies as big as those of Germany and the United States

In the (translated) words of Gilbert Achcar, “143 million companies were destroyed in lower middle income countries (- 14 %), 128 million in upper middle income countries (- 11 %), […] And, if lower income countries only lost the equivalent of 19 million jobs (- 9 %) over the same period, this figure is a poor translation of the socio-economic impact of the crisis they experience.” He proceeds, “According to the World Bank
World Bank
WB

The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, as a consequence of the pandemic, extreme poverty — defined as surviving on less than 1.90 dollars per day — increased in 2020 for the first time since 1998, just after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.” [13]

In the wake of the crisis, we are seeing repatriation of financial resources from the Periphery to the Centre, which results among other things in the collapse of stock-markets in countries of the South, while those of the North have rallied since mid-March. Thus the stock-exchange
Stock-exchange
Stock-market

The market place where securities (stocks, bonds and shares), previously issued on the primary financial market, are bought and sold. The stock-market, thus composed of dealers in second-hand transferable securities, is also known as the secondary market.
of Mexico City fell by 2.5 %, the Santiago stock-exchange in Chile by 7.25 %, Nairobi’s by 5.1 %, Morocco’s by 7 %. (All percentages shown correspond to the period between 1 February 2020 and 1 February 2021.)

Africa and many other developing countries are actually net creditors of the countries of the North

Other elements are instrumental in drying up the financial resources available for the DCs, alongside a rise in expenditure (to deal with the pandemic) and a fall in revenue. With instruments of monetary control conveniently placed where they can “do no harm” by the International Financial Institutions (IFI), and their structural adjustment policies, the DCs are suffering major capital flight. In 2015, the Global Financial Integrity think-tank estimated illicit financial flows leaving the countries of the South at between 438 and 600 billion dollars per annum, i.e. 20 % of the total external public debt of the countries of the South. [14] For Africa alone, UNCTAD
UNCTAD
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

This was established in 1964, after pressure from the developing countries, to offset the GATT effects.

estimates that illicit financial flows represent an annual loss of 89 billion dollars, which is the equivalent of Official Development Assistance
ODA
Official Development Assistance

Official Development Assistance is the name given to loans granted in financially favourable conditions by the public bodies of the industrialized countries. A loan has only to be agreed at a lower rate of interest than going market rates (a concessionary loan) to be considered as aid, even if it is then repaid to the last cent by the borrowing country. Tied bilateral loans (which oblige the borrowing country to buy products or services from the lending country) and debt cancellation are also counted as part of ODA. Apart from food aid, there are three main ways of using these funds: rural development, infrastructures and non-project aid (financing budget deficits or the balance of payments). The latter increases continually. This aid is made “conditional” upon reduction of the public deficit, privatization, environmental “good behaviour”, care of the very poor, democratization, etc. These conditions are laid down by the main governments of the North, the World Bank and the IMF. The aid goes through three channels: multilateral aid, bilateral aid and the NGOs.
and Direct Foreign Investments combined. [15] The shortfall is so great that Africa and many other developing countries are actually net creditors of the countries of the North, all the more since these estimates are based on minimal projections.

In their quest for safe investments, investors are also likely to shun issues of sovereign bonds by the DCs in most difficulty unless they agree to an increase in interest rates and risk premiums, which will add to the already heavy bill for debt repayment. As for Direct Foreign Investments (DFI), UNCTAD predicts a decline of 40 %. With the closing of borders and airports, several countries have lost a significant amount of revenue related to tourism.

  6. Drop in remittances from migrant families to their countries of origin

Another significant factor is the net drop in remittances from the diaspora, which have always accounted for far more funding than that provided by Official Development Assistance (ODA). [16] (See Graph 4). Now those remittances mostly arrive in hard currency, enabling States to put the dollars or euros or other hard currencies towards repaying their external public debt. The fall in income for households in the South due to the reduction of the amounts they receive from family members working abroad has the effect of reducing their consumption and of automatically diminishing their ability to pay direct or indirect taxes. This will reduce public revenue and weaken their capacity to make debt repayments. It will also force already impoverished families to borrow money to survive.



Graph 4: Remittances from the diaspora and public development aid received by DCs (in $ billion )

The expected drop of 20 % of these remittances will translate into an increase of poverty and ever greater difficulty in repaying external public debt

Graph 4 compares remittances from the diaspora (in blue) to ODA (in orange) received by DCs. Over a period of 18 years, ODA has tripled in absolute value, going from 48.36 billion to 165.59 billion dollars. But in fact that increase is a smokescreen. In relative value, ODA has fallen to 0.3 % of gross national income (GNI) of contributing countries, far short of the objective of 0.7 %. [17] Moreover, one has to question the quality of this “assistance”, for although it is partly donations, most of it consists of loans which may be affected to some extremely dubious uses such as border control, the costs incurred in detaining migrants or debt cancellation. Over the same period, remittances from the diaspora have been multiplied by 6.5, going from 73.95 billion to 485.27 billion dollars. In 2019, a new record was reached with 554 billion dollars remitted. [18] Furthermore, to avoid paying commissions claimed by banks and firms specialized in international money transfers, a significant percentage passes through informal circuits invisible to the statistics of institutions. [19] Remittances from the diaspora represent at least 3 times ODA, probably a lot more. Above all, they are indispensable income for the DCs’ populations, who often lack the means to pay for health and education expenses, and even food. Often sent in hard currencies, (dollar, euro, etc.), for the State they also constitute a significant part of the foreign exchange reserves at its disposal. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the World Bank expects a drop of 20 % of these remittances in 2020. [20] In other words, this will translate into an increase of poverty and ever greater difficulty in repaying external public debt.

  7. Countries with payment difficulties

Table 2 illustrates the elements analyzed in this chapter. According to the IMF, 20 % of DCs are at present in a state of over-indebtedness. In both cases, Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region. Then come East Asia & the Pacific, followed by Latin America & the Caribbean.



Table 2: List of overindebted or defaulting DCs by region [21]

 8. Debt against people

According to Jubilee Debt Campaign, DCs’ debt servicing amounted to 14.3% of their revenues in 2020, which meant that it had more than doubled compared with 2010. As always this average amount conceals strong disparities and tragic situations such as Gabon’s (59.5 % of public revenues), Ghana’s (50.2 %), Laos’ (31.1 %), Pakistan’s (35 %), Sri Lanka (37.5 %) or Venezuela’s (266.4 %). [22] In other words, “Fifty-two countries dedicate over 15% of their revenues to debt repayment, vs 31 in 2018, 27 in 2017, 22 in 2015.” [23]

 9. Summary

Summary of parts 2and 3

  • A massive increase of DCs’ public debt from 2008 onward, with a huge inflow of private capital;
  • an unprecedented increase of debt in the form of sovereign public securities, most of them maturing from 2020 onward;
  • an incipient backflow of the financial resources sent from the North to the stock-markets of the South;
  • interest rates on public loans made by the South on the rise, which is likely to further compound the worsening indebtedness of DCs;
  • severe degradation of exchange terms due to the brutal and continuous fall of commodity prices accompanied by devaluation of DCs’ currencies as against the US dollar;
  • Covid-19 dominating the news and uncertainty hovering over the DCs’ economies;
  • a reduction in foreign exchange reserves;
  • a fall in migrants’ remittances towards their countries of origin;
  • 10 countries in suspension of payments since 2015 and 21 countries in all. To which must be added 27 countries at high risk of over-indebtedness.

A new debt trap is closing in on countries of the South. It is high time to act.



Translated by Snake Arbusto, Vicki Briault, Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoulle (CADTM)

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Footnotes

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all data used in the graphs come from the World Bank website.

[3] According to the latest data available on the World Bank website. No data for 2019 for low-income countries.

[6] These are Argentina, RDC, Gambia, Grenada, Mozambique, São Tomé and Principe, South Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.

[9] See among other references, Camilla Hodgson, “Moody’s clashes with UN over G20 debt-relief efforts,” Financial Times, 21 July 2020; also, in French, Aurélie M’Bida, « Dette africaine : Moody’s face aux foudres de l’ONU et de la Banque mondiale », Jeune Afrique, 22 July 2020 at https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1018565/economie/dette-africaine-moodys-face-aux-foudres-de-lonu-et-la-banque-mondiale/ and Nelly Fualdes, « Dettes africaines : pourquoi les prêteurs privés se rebellent », Jeune Afrique, 18 May 2020, at https://www.jeuneafrique.com/946163/economie/dettes-africaines-pourquoi-les-preteurs-prives-se-rebellent/ (all in French).

[19] See Léonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce, Africa’s Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent, London: Zed Books, 2011.

[23] Gilbert Achcar, op. cit.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.

He is the author of Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.

See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint

He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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Milan Rivié

CADTM Belgium

milan.rivie @ cadtm.org

Twitter: @RivieMilan

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CADTM

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