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Macron echoes pope’s call for debt relief amid pandemic

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CNA Staff, Apr 14, 2020 / 08:10 am (CNA).- French President Emmanuel Macron has echoed Pope Francis’ call for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries amid the coronavirus crisis. 

In a televised address April 13, Macron appealed for debt cancellation “on a massive scale”.

He said: “We must also be able to help our African neighbors to fight the virus more effectively, to help them economically too by canceling their debts on a massive scale.”

“Yes, we will never win alone,” he continued. “Because today, in Bergamo, Madrid, Brussels, London, Beijing, New York, Algiers and Dakar, we are mourning deaths from the same virus. So while our world will no doubt become fragmented, it is our responsibility to build new solidarity and cooperation today.”

Macron did not refer to Pope Francis, but on Easter Sunday, the day prior, the pope made a widely reported request for lenders to forgive the debts of poor countries now facing the threat of COVID-19.

In his Urbi et Orbi message April 12, the pope said: “In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens, and may all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations.”

Poor countries owe billions of dollars to international financial institutions and wealthy nations. According to Radio France Internationale, Africa’s public debt has doubled in the past 10 years to $365 billion, $145 billion of which is owed to China.  

Finance officials from the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations and the Group of Seven major industrial nations are due to discuss debt relief this week, Reuters reported April 13.

The news agency quoted World Bank managing director Axel van Trotsenburg as saying that G-20 and G-7 members broadly supported a temporary pause in debt repayments.

He said: “Everybody understands that we need to help the poorest countries. There is a huge willingness — as in nobody is questioning that, absolutely nobody. I think we are in a good place to move forward.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced April 13 that it had approved immediate debt service relief to 25 countries in response to the pandemic. 

IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said: “This provides grants to our poorest and most vulnerable members to cover their IMF debt obligations for an initial phase over the next six months and will help them channel more of their scarce financial resources towards vital emergency medical and other relief efforts.”

The countries receiving immediate IMF relief include some of the world’s poorest, such as the Central African Republic, Niger and Mozambique.

At the turn of the millennium, Pope John Paul II supported the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which pushed for the cancellation of debts owed by the world’s poorest nations. 

In an address to campaigners in 1999, he said that debt relief was, “in many ways, a precondition for the poorest countries to make progress in their fight against poverty.” 

More than 800 people had died and more than 15,000 tested positive for coronavirus across the continent in Africa as of April 14, according to the Africa Center for Disease Control.


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