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Facing high debt, countries must ‘calibrate’ spending: IMF

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The International Monetary Fund warned that a large number of countries are at risk of debt distress or experiencing it already./AFP
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Oct 14, 2021 - 03:47 AM

WASHINGTON — After debt loads surged last year amid the pandemic, governments now must take care to “calibrate” spending, the IMF said Wednesday.

Global debt in 2020, including public and private borrowing, “jumped by 14 percent to a record high $226 trillion,” according to the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor report.

“A significant number of countries are in debt distress, or at high risk of debt distress,” said Vitor Gaspar, director of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department.

It is “urgent” to make progress on a framework to help those countries at risk, he told reporters, repeating the call from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to take action before the debt service suspension initiative agreed by the Group of 20 expires at the end of the year.

“While recognizing that the international community provided critical support to alleviate fiscal vulnerabilities in low-income countries, more is needed,” he said.

Public debt amounts to $88 trillion, close to 100 percent of GDP, and is expected to decline only gradually, according to the report, but there is a risk excess private debt will become public debt.

“Countries will need to calibrate fiscal policies to their own unique circumstances,” Gaspar said.

Massive public support helped to soften the economic blow from the pandemic, as well as the health impact.

Huge aid packages in the United States and Europe “could add a cumulative $4.6 trillion to global GDP between 2021 and 2026 if fully implemented,” Gaspar said.

In advanced economies, with progress on containing the virus, spending is shifting away from the immediate crisis and towards green and digital policies and the effort to “make economies more inclusive.”

For example, US budget proposals “aim to reduce inequality and could cut poverty by nearly one-third,” he noted.

But emerging markets and low-income developing countries “face a more challenging outlook” and “long-lasting negative impacts,” as falling tax revenues due to the ongoing crisis will leave little room for investing in development, he said.

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