Moderator: Izabella Kaminska, Financial Times Alphaville Editor
• Panelist 1: Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, International Monetary Fund, Director of SPR Department
• Panelist 2: Nadia Daar, Oxfam International, Head of Washington DC Office
• Panelist 3: Andres Arauz, Former Director General of Banking, Central Bank of Ecuador
• Panelist 4: George Gray Molina, Director, Strategic Policy and Engagement and Chief Economist, UNDP
• Respondent 2: Patricia Miranda, LATINDADD, Global Advocacy Director
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva (prerecorded message)
The session began with a prerecorded message by IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in which she noted the importance of the unprecedented $650 billion allocation SDRs and stressed the need to maximise the impact of the new allocation to help countries to respond to the effects of the pandemic. She thanked civil society for its advocacy for the allocation and focused on the imperative to ensure countries are transparent and make the “best use” of their SDR allocations.
G20 must commit to debt-free allocations...rechannelling mechanism...must not include conditionalityNadia Daar, Oxfam
She highlighted calls for the voluntary rechanneling of SDR, stressing the that process is strictly voluntary. The managing director outlined the three options being considered: Support to the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT), a potential Resilience and Sustainability Trust, and channelling through multilateral development banks (MDBs) – see Observer Autumn 2021
The new allocation has great potential – transparency is indeed essential. Health and Social protection spending essential to respond to pandemic and address recent under-investment due to austerity policies.
The allocation takes place in a troubling context of minimal debt restructure, pressure on Low and middle-income countries (LIC/MICs) to undertake urgent climate spending and the end of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) this year (see Observer Winter 2020).
$450 billion is needed for pandemic costs during the next 5 years and only approximately $200 billion of the new $600 billion allocation has gone to LIC/MICs. The inequity of the allocation can be seen in a comparison between Bangladesh and Germany. The skewed distribution was the reason for civil society calls for an allocation of $3 trillion.
She highlighted that 280 civil society organisations (CSOs) and academics had signed an open letter calling for the grants-based allocation of SDRs to LIC/MICs.
G7 commitment of $100 billion is a minimum bar. High-income countries seem to be waiting for decisions from domestic bodies on how the “best/ most appropriate” mechanism to channel SDRs. Expect G20 to announce commitments next week.
G20 must commit to debt-free allocations. Grants are the ideal option. PRGT has 0% extended rate. Adopt that with a generous repayment period. If it sounds like a grant, that is the point.
Every effort must be made to avoid worsening the current very serious debt situation. In that regards the new RST, if established, must be grant-based. This should be possible as the RST is being developed from scratch.
Mechanisms should avoid conditionalities particularly in light of concerns relating to evidenced new austerity wave. RST financing should not require an IMF programme.
Focus on social and health protection – to prepare countries for future crises. Allocations should be based on need, not income. MICs are often excluded: for example, PRGT limits access to MICs.
Transparency and accountability are essential.
If rules don’t allow for something – change the rules.
Genesis of SDRs – created to be similar to gold as reserve asset. Initially focused on ‘development’ link in discussion between Fund and UNCTAD. The proposed development link has been around for a long time.
Reserve assets, however still assets. The IMF’s Articles of Agreement stipulate that SDRs are allocated to member countries, not central banks (CBs). The use of SDRs are up to the states to decide.
The use of SDRs is not a marginal discussion and should not be left to individual countries, it must take place within wider global context and should include leadership of the Fund.
The problem of the ‘last mile’ remains. SDRs are not being used with due urgency. Need to address fiscal use by governments vs. use in countries’ balance sheet. Resources must be used to address health, vaccine. This is not the time for CB dogmatism.
Also need fiscal flexibility to ensure grant-like rechannelling by HICs.
HICs have been used to benefit from global hierarchy to respond to the crisis. Noted Latindadd’s Handbook for use of SDRs. Continue to advocate a new allocation to meet the $3 trillion called upon initially. The US House of Representatives has approved up to $2.2 trillion of new SDR allocations.
George Gray Molina
Underlined the following policy challenges:
Debt issues. ‘Huge problem’ – UNDP is monitoring 82 vulnerable countries. UNDP calculates that $7.7 trillion is owed to private creditors. Participation of private creditors in debt restructure is therefore essential.
Climate finance – COP26 struggling to meet modest $100 billion/ annually. Climate action will face a gap of $trillions.
SDRs are net additions, could free hard currency:
1. Brady-like guarantee. Use for swaps with a large haircut. Managed by multilateral facility – as was done with Latin American debt crisis.
2. Repo facility – through special purpose vehicles to create a concessional repo facility.
3. European Stability Mechanisms-like facility for climate financing.
SDRs should be used to expand access to hard currencies. SDRs are meant to be used. UN Secretary General has supported allocation of SDRs from the beginning.
The Fund has thus far provided $117 billion to 82 countries. PRGT has expanded 0% lending to LICs. Therefore board is very supportive of concessional lending. The Fund has supported vaccination efforts and is working to assess financing needs.
Historic SDR allocation, with $275 billion in SDRs going to MIC/ LICs – up to 6% of GDP for some. Much more substantial than DSSI amounts. Fund is focused on governance and ‘prudent and transparent use’ of SDRs so that resources go to those who need it. IMF has a guidance note on the use of SDRs.
The challenge is to ensure allocation is used where it is most needed. The International Monetary and Financial Committee and the G2O are exploring options for ‘voluntary’ re-channeling:
- Increase size of PRGT – making good progress. $15 billion from existing resources has already been provided. There is a need for an additional $28-$ 50 billion. Need grant support of $2.2 bililion. Hopes for good news during annuals.
- Establishment of RST is being actively discussed
- MDBs – 14 organisations of prescribed SDR holders.
It is Important to note that SDRs tend to be under CB control. We must “not hold the benefit of the good hostage to the perfect”. Need to be aware of demands. PRGT – seems a good option.
The RST is under discussion – facing many constraints, to ensure resources can indeed by channelled. Eg. Need technical input from European Central Bank. Must be consistent with Fund mandate. Focus on poorest and must vulnerable countries. RST will focus on climate and digitisation.
Calls for no conditionality will get nowhere. We must change the discussion to focus on what reforms are required to enhance growth. Reforms must be locally owned.
These discussions are quite technical and complex. Fund has fiduciary responsibility to creditors.
RST will be long-term credit – up to 20 years.
While not as ambitious as required, the new allocation is indeed history in the light of significant difficulties. Social, climate, health and economic conditions have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
There is nonetheless a need for clarity.
Channelling mechanism, whatever it is, must not include conditionality. Must have clarity for the flexibility of usage, including fiscal use– channeling by HIC as highly concessional. Unfortunately, the current international financial architecture will challenge the effective allocation and use of SDRs.
MICs remain disadvantaged by the focus of the discussions – e.g. on PRGT.
Political will is required for delivery of effective results. We must move beyond short-term liquidity issues.
Questions & Answers
Q: How much of the SDR allocation should be used to support inclusive recovery?
CBs are not responsible for procurement, etc. Must ensure mechanisms are in place for fiscal use of SDRs to meet urgent needs.
Fund has disbursed up to 6.5% of GDP in some cases through SDRs and significant other support (Sierra Leone). There is some space for use of SDR – however many other external challenges – consider ESF/ Fund. Important not to mix mechanisms. SDRs should be used to maintain buffers.
Reforms must not be only considered to be austerity-focused. Focus also on expansion of fiscal space.
Concerned with economic policy conditionality vs. the need for transparency, accountability. She stressed that the use of economic conditionality seems contrary to focus on ownership. Agree on need to focus on expansion of fiscal space
Civil society remains concerned about the focus of IMF programmes on austerity and rigid conditions.
Worked in her own country. Many interests that work against reformist forces – sometimes conditions can be used politically by leaders. That is why a focus on growth-enhancing reforms are necessary.
Q from Sierra Leone CSO: Raised concerns about the current state of the Covid-19 response and underscored need for additional resources.
Agreed and noted the focus on expansion of PRGT resources.
George Gray Molina
What is the flexibility for prescribed institutions – e.g. UN funds?
About 13 prescribed institutions currently – available in the Q&A section of Fund website – many criteria guide the selection of institutions.
Ceyla stressed that the Fund has concerns about the fiscal use of SDR, as they are equivalent to debt. Also fear of interest rates related to exchange for hard currency, vs. use of resources within CB through swaps.
George Gray Molina
SDR have already been allocated. There remain significant issues around domestic constraints in channelling – e.g. Germany and Japan. Need to focus on potential use of funds. Proposals would be welcome and are necessary from other multilateral institutions.
Noted Fund’s continue to focus on ill-advised conditions – e.g. limitations on social and health spending. Fiscal austerity has been proved to negatively impact growth. IMF research has noted that fiscal consolidation is detrimental to growth, however the country-level prescriptions continue.
Fund very careful to include social spending floor in many of its programmes. Fund has learned that unless growth is inclusive, it will not be sustainable.
Also working on potential for climate swaps, for example.
Agreement that unequal financing is intrinsically related to unequal recovery. SDRs should be used by ministers of finance to support recovery – rather than allow CBs to assume principal responsibility. The channelling of SDRs through UN trust funds should be strongly considered.
Q: Audience member raised the $35 billion grant gap, identified by the Fund, to ensure adequate vaccination. How to deal with the issue of debt repayment to China vs. social spending?
SDR re-channelling will not be quick. PRGT can be used to fund vaccines, etc.
IMF is not a development institution, cannot purchase vaccines, etc. This is the mandate of MDBs.
It is imperative that local CSOs are included in these discussions to ensure transparency and accountability.