UN report sounds alarm on global debt surge: Calls for urgent financial reforms to protect global prosperity

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New Delhi: The United Nations has raised a clarion call over the escalating levels of global public debt, warning of significant threats to global prosperity. The recent UN Trade and Development report underscores the urgency for reforms in international financial systems to secure the future for both people and the planet.

In a disclosure, the report reveals that domestic and external government borrowings reached an unprecedented peak of USD 97 trillion in 2023, marking an increase of USD 5.6 trillion from the previous year. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has reiterated the need for immediate reforms to the global debt architecture to avert a widespread debt crisis, particularly among developing countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated borrowing, with developing countries seeing a 15.7 per cent surge in external sovereign debt, bringing the total to USD 11.4 trillion by the end of 2022. The complexity of mounting debt levels is compounded by the diversity of lenders and financial instruments, and the surge in debt servicing costs is equally troubling.

Low-income and lower-middle-income countries, which borrowed heavily during periods of low-interest rates and high investor enthusiasm, are now dedicating approximately 23 per cent and 13 per cent of their export revenues, respectively, to repay external debt. This rising debt burden is siphoning off vital public resources needed for essential development, with about 3.3 billion people–nearly half of humanity–living in countries that spend more on debt interest than on education or health.

The report strongly advocates for a comprehensive reassessment of various factors influencing debt dynamics, including public health, global economic shifts, rising interest rates, geopolitical realignments, political instability, and the implications of sovereign debt on industrial policies in debtor states. To address the crisis, UNCTAD recommends boosting concessional loans, characterized by lower interest rates and extended repayment terms.

Increasing the base capital of multilateral and regional banks to expand their lending capacity is one proposed solution.
Another suggestion is to enhance concessional finance through the issuance of special drawing rights (SDRs), an international currency created by the IMF to bolster monetary reserves by allowing member countries to exchange them for official currencies as needed.

The report also calls for greater transparency in financing terms and conditions. Reducing resource and information asymmetry between borrowers and lenders, coupled with legislative measures in lender countries, can help discourage predatory lending practices.

Further recommendations include expanding access to foreign currencies for developing countries through central bank swaps and enhancing their resilience during external crises via standstill rules on debt obligations, such as climate-resilient debt clauses.
Additionally, the report emphasizes the need for well-developed rules for automatic debt restructurings and a robust global financial safety net. These measures are crucial to ensure that developing nations can navigate the complexities of global debt without compromising their development goals.

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