Browne calls for Paris Club debt relief

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Yesterday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne seized an opportunity to call on the Paris Club group of lenders to grant his country some breathing space on its debts, as the nation looks to recover from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Irma in September.
His call came at a press conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, where a pledging conference will get underway today to raise funds for the CARICOM countries hit by the September storms.
The PM said his country owes the Paris Club approximately U.S. $140 million, with the majority of that amount being interest accrued on loans, one of which dates back to the country’s colonial days.
“Where we have a challenge is that there has been a block of Paris Club loans totaling about U.S. $140 million that have been outstanding for about three decades. At least one or two of the loans have been outstanding for probably 40 years. That is an area in which we are asking for some level of relief. We’re hoping that the Paris Club countries will see it necessary to assist with some form of write off, even if it is the interest.”
Speaking specifically about one of the older loans, Browne said it was his government’s understanding that the U.K. government should have been responsible for its repayment because it was granted while Antigua and Barbuda was one of its colonies.
“In our books, it should have been written off but we’re still being held responsible for paying it,” the PM said. The U.K. is one of the 22 permanent member nations of the Paris Club grouping.
Browne cited his country’s high debt-to-GDP ratio as being responsible for its inability to service the loans because enough cash flows are not being generated.
He added that they have been trying to get those loan amounts reduced to make the repayments more manageable, not avoid their obligations.
“I do not want anyone to be of the view or impression that I’m suggesting here, that as a country, that we should not cover our repayment obligations. I’m saying that this is an opportune time for the Paris Club countries to look at those debts and recognise that most of the outstanding comprise interest, and, in that case, I think it’s the most appropriate time for them to give us some level of relief.” 
According to the PM, some people believe that the repayments of those loans should be accelerated, a position he dismissed.
“We’ve made the point that if the country could not have repaid those loans before the hurricane, I do not know how someone could sensibly think that we can pay them now in this crisis.”
The pledging conference has been organised by the CARICOM Secretariat in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme.

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