Feb 18 (Bloomberg) – The International Monetary Fund is considering approving Sri Lanka’s bailout even without the formal assurance of debt-restructuring support from China, the nation’s biggest bilateral creditor, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Under a rarely used policy on lending into official arrears, the IMF may consider approving Sri Lanka’s loan because China’s assurance is the only prerequisite missing, according to the people who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public.
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This provision is aimed at preventing a creditor from blocking assistance to a country in dire need of financing and has shown commitment to meet loan conditions.
An IMF spokesperson said that it’s premature to discuss the precise IMF policies that could be applied to lending to Sri Lanka, and that the nation’s authorities continue to seek financing assurances so that the fund’s executive board can consider their request for a loan. IMF staff also continue to engage with the Sri Lankan authorities who are working on completing upfront policy measures, the spokesperson said.
The IMF can use the policy on lending into official arrears if it deems prompt financial support is essential and sees the country pursuing appropriate policies and making good-faith efforts to reach an agreement with creditors, according to an explanation on the fund’s website.
Moving forward with loan approval would be a shift from its position earlier this month, when it said the approval of Sri Lanka’s $2.9 billion Extended Fund Facility will depend on whether the nation can secure assurances from all bilateral creditors.
The development comes as World Bank President David Malpass said Thursday that long extensions of debt are among the options that G-20 nations and others are considering to help ease the burden for poor countries.
The IMF, World Bank and Group of 20 nations chair India separately held virtual discussions Friday on global sovereign debt ahead of the finance ministers and central bank governors’ meeting in Bangalore next week.
Sri Lanka and Pakistan count on IMF loans to provide immediate relief by shoring up their foreign-currency reserves and unlocking more funding.
Pending China’s creditor assurance, Sri Lanka is trying to meet other reform conditions set by the IMF, including increasing electricity tariffs and clearing a new monetary law for parliament approval. The government may also loosen its grip on a currency band to meet the fund’s requirements.
The Paris Club — an informal group of rich, mostly western creditors — and India have provided formal support to Sri Lanka’s loan recast, leaving China as a holdout.
China, which accounts for about 52% of the bankrupt nation’s bilateral debt, has instead offered term extensions via the state-owned Export-Import Bank.
Debt negotiations have dragged since Sri Lanka defaulted in May, causing severe supply shortage, depleting its foreign-currency reserves, sending inflation and borrowing costs soaring and pushing the economy into a recession.
While the nation has repurposed some funds to ease the shortage and damp price pressures, it would need IMF’s bailout and other funding to turn the situation around.
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