China must step up on Africa debt relief – Ken Ofori-Atta

China must do more to help ease the debt burden of African countries facing economic calamity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta has said.

Though Africa accounts for just a fraction of global cases of the disease, its countries already face the grim impacts, with the continent’s economies expected to contract, putting about 20 million jobs at risk.

“My feeling is that China has to come on stronger,” 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,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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