UN Headquarters

29 March 2021

Opening remarks at joint press conference on High-Level Event on Debt and Liquidity with Prime Ministers Andrew Holness (Jamaica) and Justin Trudeau (Canada)

António Guterres

Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen of the press - good morning, good afternoon or good evening. 

Today’s meeting is aimed at preventing a debt crisis that will have the greatest impact on the poorest people, in the most vulnerable countries. 

But the impact will not stop there. 

It cannot be confined to any region or category of country. There have been credible forecasts of losses of global output in the trillions of dollars. 

The United Nations has been warning of this crisis since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago. 

Unfortunately, not enough has been done to support those countries – many dozens of countries – that are at highest risk. 

We are already in the worst global recession in 90 years. 

We cannot walk head on, eyes wide open, into a debt crisis that is foreseeable and preventable.

Many developing countries face financing constraints that mean they cannot invest in recovery and resilience. 

Nor can they access the vaccines that provide the fastest route out of the pandemic.  

A global vaccination gap threatens everyone, in developing and advanced economies alike. 

Developing countries urgently need access to additional liquidity, to respond to the pandemic, and to invest in a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

Today, we are united in calling for urgent, bold and decisive action. 

I commend the strong leadership of the Prime Ministers of Canada and Jamaica, who have been vital partners in this process. 

The old rules simply do not apply. 

We need to change the rules, putting people and livelihoods at the centre of our decisions. 

I am encouraged by the growing consensus around the need for increased liquidity through the issuing of Special Drawing Rights by the International Monetary Fund – one year after we first called for this. 

I renew my call for the voluntary reallocation of unutilized SDRs to support vulnerable developing countries, including middle income ones. 

We also need to see far bolder steps on the three-phase approach to debt that we have advocated from the start: 

  • First, a moratorium on debt payments; 
  • Second, targeted debt relief; 
  • Third, reforms to the international debt architecture. 

Fresh financing by International Financial Institutions, the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative, and the Common Framework for Debt Treatments are welcome steps. 

But we must go further, and faster. 

The DSSI must be extended into 2022, and made available to all highly indebted countries, including also vulnerable middle-income countries that might request it. 

The Common Framework must be complemented with initiatives and instruments, so that participating countries are not penalized with downgrades to their credit ratings. 

Additional, targeted debt relief will be needed. Options include debt swaps, buy-backs and cancellations. 

And the private sector must be brought into the dialogue.
 
In the long-term, we need an international debt architecture that works for all, with agreed principles, and restructurings that are timely and adequate.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, 

In a global pandemic, we cannot separate economics and health.

We are in danger of emerging from COVID-19 with a two-speed world. That is already starting with the unequal distribution of vaccines. 

If half of the world cannot access vaccines, there is a danger of successive waves of COVID-19 over the next few years. This could undermine the effectiveness of existing vaccines, with a continued devastating impact on lives, livelihoods – and the global economy. 

If we heed the lessons of the pandemic, we will invest in safety and resilience; in strong global health systems; and in a robust financial architecture, [fit] for the 21st century.  

Together, we can emerge from this year of terrible loss with new momentum, and build a sustainable and inclusive recovery for all. 

Thank you.