Coronavirus: G-20 finance ministers agree to suspend debt payments for world's poorest countries

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat took part in the virtual meeting (above). PHOTO: FACEBOOK/HENG SWEE KEAT

SINGAPORE - Finance ministers of the world's 20 largest economies and their key partners on Wednesday (April 15) agreed on a plan to suspend debt service payments for the world's poorest countries as the global economy battles the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They also called on private creditors to participate in the initiative "on comparable terms".

Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan told a press conference, after chairing the Group of 20 (G-20) finance ministers and central bank governors virtual meeting, that the grouping was determined to spare no efforts to overcome the pandemic, safeguard jobs and incomes, and ensure the resilience of financial systems.

They also endorsed a plan to deploy all available policy tools to boost confidence and maintain financial stability. The G-20 action plan aims to prevent the liquidity crisis from turning into a solvency crisis, and to prevent a global recession becoming a global depression, he said.

Saudi Arabia holds the rotating chairmanship of the G-20 this year, as the group formed in the wake of the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis faces the greatest challenge to the world economy since then.

Singapore was invited by Riyadh to take part in the G-20 meetings this year, and the Republic's Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who took part in Wednesday's meeting, called on countries to share information, accelerate research and development, and make good use of digital technology in battling the virus.

The meeting was the third in as many weeks to discuss the pandemic, underscoring the urgency of the G-20's task in bringing countries together to take coordinated action, Mr Heng wrote on Facebook. "In better circumstances, our meeting would have been held in Washington DC at around this time."

Covid-19 is a global pandemic that requires a global response, and there is still much uncertainty over how this pandemic will pan out, he said. The virus is also impacting countries on multiple fronts, ranging from healthcare to the economy and social resilience, he added.

While the top priority is to contain the spread of the virus, the economic impact must be decisively dealt with, said Mr Heng, who is also Singapore's Finance Minister.

"Countries will need measures to cushion our businesses and households, preserve capabilities and ensure financial stability. They must also take collective action to assist the poorest economies," he added.

The post-Covid world is likely to be a different one, said Mr Heng.

Having more frequent meetings using video conferencing may become the new normal, for example.

"But what will never change is our sense of common purpose and our desire to improve the lives of our people - across continents and borders," he said.

"This crisis is a reminder for us to strengthen the global commons and our collective capabilities. Together, we can forge a more inclusive form of globalisation that benefits all countries."

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