The UK government’s bilateral debt relief policy is largely made up of cancelling debt owed to the ECGD. In fact about 95% of bilateral debt owed to the UK is through the ECGD.
Most of the ECGD debt cancellation that occurs is through the HIPC initiative. HIPC only includes countries that qualify as having ‘unsustainable debt’ as calculated by the World Bank & IMF. So far only 23 countries qualify as having had unsustainable debt. This process is part of the big debt relief deal agreed in 1999 in the wake of the Jubilee2000 campaign.
The forum for ECGD debt cancellation is the Paris Club an informal creditors club that meets to decide the fate of country’s debt problems. This forum includes all the export credit agencies owed debt by the country under consideration as well as other governmental representative. For the UK this includes someone from Dfid, FCO and the Treasury.
The debt cancelled at the Paris Club under HIPC owed to the ECGD is then counted as ODA by the UK government. This goes towards the government’s target of aid spending as a proportion of Gross National Income. By including debt relief as ODA the UK government (as well as many other EU governments) inflate the amount they spend on aid and by a huge amount. click here to see the UK aid chart and the proportion of this as debt relief
ECGD debt cancellation should not come from the aid budget! Not only is this a massaging of the aid figures and denying poor countries more aid but at the same time it subsidises UK exporters for their operations in the developing world- not for reducing poverty. Why should this come out of the aid budget? The biggest industry that the ECGD subsidises is the arms industry. For example the ECGD is owed over US$1billion by the Indonesian government for tanks and jets sold to Suharto in the 1990s.
Military debt cancellation is also not supposed to be counted as ODA even though about 45% of ECGD’s business concerns the arms industry. For more information on this see the Blog entry on NigeriaTherefore the UK government is moving towards its aid target at the expense of those that its aid is supposed to benefit. This is all despite constant calls from campaigns such as Jubilee Scotland but the OECD whose Development Assistance Committee (DAC) analyses ODA levels actually allows this practice to continue.
In 2005 there was international recognition that global aid spending needed to be increased by at least US$50 billion a year to meet anti-poverty targets(the Millennium Development Goals). THIS FIGURE DID NOT INCLUDE DEBT RELIEF.
However in the same year,the UK as well as other creditors implemented two of the biggest debt relief deals outside of HIPC. Debt cancellation for Iraq and Nigeria. Iraq’s situation was spurred by reconstruction efforts after the war and calls by the US administration for debt relief. In Nigeria the government threatened to default on their debt payments resulting in partial cancellation in return for a one-off payment. Most of the debt owed to the UK by both countries was through the ECGD.
This has meant that the UK and global aid figures are even more inflated than usual:
“ODA was exceptionally high in 2005 due to large Paris Club debt relief operations (notably for Iraq and Nigeria) which boosted ODA to its highest level ever at USD 107.1 billion. In 2006, net debt relief grants still represented a substantial share of net ODA, as members implemented further phases of the Paris Club agreements, providing USD 3.3 billion for Iraq and USD 9.4 billion for Nigeria. Excluding debt relief, ODA fell by 0.8%.”
|In the UK 24% of ODA was spent on Iraq and Nigerian debt cancellation in 2006 http://www.concordeurope.org/Files/media/internetdocumentsENG/Aid%20watch/1-Hold_the_Applause.FINAL.pdf
For more information here is a few links to reports on Export Credit Agencies and debt.
Other organisations that scrutinize Export Credit Agencies