IMF debt cleared, PetroCaribe debt slashed

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Antigua and Barbuda has taken steps to clear off the last of an E.C. $320 million IMF loan.
This was announced by Prime Minister Gaston Browne on Tuesday, a day before the country goes to the polls.
The IMF loan is one the ABLP government had inherited from the previous UPP administration.
“Today I am pleased to confirm that we have given instructions to the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank today to make the final payment to the IMF. It’s a payment of E.C. $12 million which will retire that $320- million-dollar loan in its entirety.
“It means therefore that from today we will no longer be indebted to the IMF and that would have signalled to the international community and to investors that the Antiguan economy is strong.”
According to the PM, the economy has grown by more than 20 percent since his ABLP took office in June 2014 and growth is expected to continue.
Browne also called a Venezuelan official in the presence of reporters to confirm that the South American country would be writing off some 50 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s oil debt under the PetroCaribe arrangement.
“I just spoke to a Venezuelan official who confirmed that a letter will be sent very shortly in which the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will confirm the forgiveness of up to 50 percent of the PetroCaribe debt. Now that debt presently stands at about half a billion dollars.
That debt was incurred by the former administration; it is a debt that has been dangling; it is nowhere on the books and we have been pressing over the years for some relief,” Browne said.
The PM said the Venezuelans had given the commitment to write off the debt at the pledging conference for hurricane-hit islands which was held in New York in November.
Asked about the debt his government had incurred since taking office, Browne readily pointed to the U.S. $90 million loan secured from the China Exim Bank for the St. John’s port modernisation project, and another U.S. $28 million from the Caribbean Development Bank for Barbuda reconstruction and the road repair projects.
“You may argue that those are borrowings, but those are borrowings for productive purposes, to build the economic infrastructure so that we can increase the amount of economic activity to grow the economy to put people to work and ultimately to generate enough funds so that we can provide the social services … to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.”
Browne noted that all governments borrow from time to time, but the real issue was ensuring that the debt to GDP level does not become unsustainable. He pointed out that his government had lowered the debt to GDP ratio since taking office in 2014 from above 100 percent to some 75 percent.

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