April 7, 2020 / 7:52 AM / 2 months ago

China must step up on Africa debt relief, Ghana finance minister says

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - China must do more to help ease the debt burden of African countries facing economic calamity from the coronavirus pandemic, Ghana’s finance minister said.

Ghana's Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta makes remarks at the Institute of International Finance's meeting entitled "G20: Compact With Africa", during the IMF and World Bank's 2017 Annual Fall Meetings, in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Africa accounts for just a fraction of global cases of the disease, but its countries already feel the impact, with the continent’s economies expected to contract, putting about 20 million jobs at risk. [nL8N2BT0L1]

“My feeling is that China has to come on stronger,” Ken Ofori-Atta said during a conversation on Monday with Masood Ahmed, president of the Washington-based Center for Global Development that was posted on the think-tank’s website.

“African debt to China is $145 billion or so, over $8 billion of payments is required this year ... So that needs to be looked at.”

African governments are calling for $100 billion in assistance, including support for a moratorium on all external debt and eventually some debt write-offs. [nL8N2BP2TI]

China on Tuesday said that it recognises that developing countries face a greater challenge, but it did not mention any specific debt-relief measures that it would implement.

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China will communicate with the relevant countries through diplomatic channels.

“For countries who face debt difficulties, China will never force them, but will resolve it through consultation via bilateral channels,” he said Tuesday at a daily press briefing.

Ofori-Atta now chairs the Development Committee, a ministerial-level forum that advises the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on development issues.

He said African countries were seeking ways to increase their special drawing rights (SDR), foreign exchange reserves managed by the IMF, to shield against commercial debt defaults.

“This should not happen,” Ofori-Atta said. “So we should find a way to increase SDRs or for the Europeans to offer their SDRs as a way out.”

Reporting by Joe Bavier; additional reporting by Huizhong Wu; editing by Larry King

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