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WORLD | 18-07-2020 07:00

Argentina asks for help as Saudi hosts G20 virtual talks on virus recovery, debt crisis

Foreign Minister Felipe Solá says he will urge the G20 to set up a global "solidarity-based fund" to address the increase in poverty in virus-battered countries.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers are set to hold talks Saturday aimed at spurring global economic recovery from a coronavirus-triggered recession amid growing calls to widen debt relief for crisis-hit poor countries.

The virtual talks, hosted by Saudi Arabia, come as the surging pandemic continues to batter the global economy and campaigners warn of a looming debt crisis across poverty-wracked developing nations.

The ministers and bankers will "discuss [the] global economic outlook and coordinate collective action for a robust and sustained global economic recovery," G20 organisers in Riyadh said in a statement.

The talks, chaired by Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan and central bank governor Ahmed al-Kholifey, come a day after the European Union held its first face-to-face summit in five months to discuss a post-virus economic rescue plan.

Kristalina Georgieva, the International Monetary Fund's managing director, has warned that despite some signs of recovery, the global economy faces sustained headwinds, including the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19.

"We are not out of the woods yet," Georgieva said in a message to G20 finance ministers, warning the pandemic was likely to increase poverty and inequality.

Downgrading its growth forecasts, the Washington-based crisis lender last month said it expected global GDP to fall by 4.9 percent this year due to a deeper contraction during lockdowns than previously anticipated.

The US$11 trillion in stimulus offered by G20 nations has helped to prevent a worse outcome, but "these safety nets must be maintained as needed and, in some cases, expanded," Georgieva said.

'Impending catastrophe'

In April, G20 nations announced a one-year debt standstill for the world's poorest nations.

Campaigners have criticised the measure as grossly inadequate to stave off the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

France said on Friday it would ask the G20 to extend the debt service suspension.

"The economic crisis will persist in 2021 throughout the world," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a statement.

"France calls on the G20 countries to extend the moratorium on debt servicing to give the poorest countries the means to overcome" the crisis.

So far, 41 out of the world's 73 poorest nations have applied for the G20's debt service suspension initiative, saving them up to US$9 billion this year, according to charities Oxfam, Christian Aid and Global Justice Now.

But the 73 countries are still required to pay up to US$33.7 billion in debt repayments through the end of the year, the charities said in a research report released on Thursday.

"The global economy has been hit harder by the coronavirus than the already dire predictions we saw in April – the G20 finance ministers have the mandate to avert an impending catastrophe for hundreds of millions of people," said Chema Vera, Oxfam's interim executive director. 

"They must make [the initiative] legally binding to cancel all debt payments, including private and multilateral, through the end of 2022 and also include middle-income countries," he added.

"An eight-month freeze on bilateral debt alone does not come close to freeing up enough cash or time for the world's poorest countries to cope with the pandemic and its effects."

'Glaring inequalities' 

Amnesty International also called on G20 nations to "cancel the debt owed by the poorest countries for at least the next two years".

"Covid-19 has exposed the glaring inequalities that exist in our world," said Julie Verhaar, Amnesty's acting secretary-general.

"If we are to build resilience to future crises, we need to make long-term structural changes that will require courage and leadership from G20 countries."

Argentina's Foreign Minister Felipe Solá said he would urge the G20 to set up a global "solidarity-based fund" to address the increase in poverty in virus-battered countries.

"In the framework of the pandemic we want a global and solidarity financing fund that must take into account the increase in poverty in most countries," Solá said.

"We want decisions on debt, not only for the poorest countries but also for middle-income countries that are impoverished" due to the pandemic, the minister told reporters in Buenos Aires.

Solá said that at that meeting there will be decisions on cooperation, but he pointed out that they may not be enough.

"Cooperation is very important, but it fails to equate injustice. Injustice is equated when one enters the financial issue, in the financial heart of each country, and sees at what level its economy and its possible growth have been harmed", Held.

Argentina has been in recession since 2018 and this year its economy is expected to suffer even more due to the effect of the pandemic, with an estimated contraction of 9.9 percent in Gross Domestic Product on the way, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In addition, it is in the midst of renegotiating some US$66 billion in debt bonds issued under foreign law and is seeking a new program with the IMF.

It is unclear how receptive the group will be to the demands from Argentina. The world's 20 most industrialised nations are themselves scrambling to defend their virus-wracked economies amid forecasts of a deepening recession.

Last month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said measures to curtail the disease caused a record 3.4 percent drop in GDP for G20 economies in the first three months of 2020.

That marks the biggest decline since the Paris-based agency began compiling data in 1998.

– TIMES/AFP

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