Sri Lanka is urging China to share with other creditors the terms of its recent $4.2 billion bilateral debt deal, a step needed to help the bankrupt nation speed up the process of restoring its finances more than a year after it defaulted.
(Bloomberg) — Sri Lanka is urging China to share with other creditors the terms of its recent $4.2 billion bilateral debt deal, a step needed to help the bankrupt nation speed up the process of restoring its finances more than a year after it defaulted.
Sharing the information would ensure transparency and assure other bilateral creditors that they’re getting a comparable deal, Nandalal Weerasinghe, the country’s central bank governor, said on a panel Friday.
The request from Sri Lanka comes as it seeks to finalize a deal with its official creditor committee, co-led by Japan, India and the Paris Club, an informal and influential group of Western lenders. The South Asia nation defaulted in May 2022 and owes more than $12 billion in overseas bonds, according to the government’s quarterly debt bulletin.
Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring is among a few test cases of the IMF-led efforts to develop new guidelines among rich and poor countries to manage defaults. That’s mainly driven by China’s limited experience restructuring distressed loans after its rise over the past decade to become the biggest bilateral lender to emerging markets, as well as a bigger role played by private creditors.
Read more: IMF Talks on Debt Deadlock Stuck Between China, Private Lenders
Sri Lanka is asking China to share the deal terms “with all other creditors” as soon as possible to “make it more transparent and ensure comparability so that we can make progress,” Weerasinghe said. “Because this is a bilateral agreement, obviously, we need to have a consensus from the other party to share that information.”
Private creditors are seeking a separate deal. An ad hoc group of bondholders, organized by advisers including Rothschild & Co., recently submitted a proposal to Sri Lanka that includes taking a 20% haircut and issuance of new debt, including a so-called macro-linked bond.
Incorporating China, along with other rising bilateral creditors such as India and Saudi Arabia, into the established order of the Paris Club has been a lengthy process and a main focus of the International Monetary Fund’s annual meetings this week in Morocco.
Beijing made an unexpected announcement earlier this week of a deal between Sri Lanka and the Export-Import Bank of China, which has increased confusion over the process. The IMF and other creditors also weren’t aware of the development, and Weeransinghe on Friday said that the announcement was “a bit of a surprise” to the Sri Lanka government as well.
The issue will likely be in focus next week when Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe travels to China to participate in the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. About 40% of its bilateral debt is owed to China and 16% to India, according to estimates from the IMF.
Separately, the IMF is assessing Sri Lanka’s progress toward meeting economic and reform targets under the nation’s $3 billion bailout package. A staff-level agreement is the first step needed in order for a second tranche of $334 million in loans.
Sri Lanka and the IMF are close to reaching such a staff-level agreement following talks in Morocco this week, according to people involved in the discussions, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t finalized yet. Only a few outstanding issues remain, one person said, declining to provide more detail.
–With assistance from Toru Fujioka.
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