Campaigners call on the IMF to sell gold for debt relief

Debt campaigners are calling for the International Monetary Fund to sell some of its stockpile of gold to cover the debt payments owed by the world’s poorest countries for the next 15 months.

With a looming developing world debt crisis high on the agenda at this week’s annual meetings of the IMF, the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) said gold sales would help the most vulnerable countries cope with the Covid-19 shock and pave the way for a broader debt deal.

The IMF holds 90.5m ounces of gold, or 2,814 metric tonnes, worth about $175bn (£134bn) at current prices.

A sharp rise in the price of the precious metal means that since the start of 2020 the value of the IMF’s gold reserves has increased in value by $38bn.

The JDC said selling less than 7% of the IMF’s gold would generate a $12bn profit, which is enough to cancel the debts owed by the 73 poorest countries until the end of 2021 and still leave the Washington-based organisation with $26bn more gold than it held at the start of the year.

Both the IMF and its sister organisation, the World Bank, have identified the need for a comprehensive debt relief plan for poor countries, which would include debts owed to governments, multilateral organisations and the private sector.

The JDC said gold sales would act as a catalyst for a broad debt deal and help convince China, a big creditor, that it would not be asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the relief effort.

Sarah-Jayne Clifton, the director of the JDC, said: “There is enormous inequality in the resources available to countries to help them weather the Covid crisis. Poorer countries simply don’t have the monetary and other tools available to them that rich countries are using to keep their economies afloat.

“The IMF has the tools and resources to help plug this gap. It has the ability now to unlock a comprehensive debt payment cancellation scheme that could save the poorest countries $180bn in debt payments in the next four years. This would have a huge impact, helping poorer countries to tackle the current economic and health crisis and supporting their faster economic recovery in years to come.”

In addition to using profits from gold sales, the JDC said rich countries should be prepared to use the IMF’s ability to create reserve assets, known as special drawing rights, to cancel the debts of poor countries.

An SDR issuance was last used by the IMF during the the 2008-09 financial crisis. It would boost the reserves of every IMF member country. The JDC proposes that richer countries should set aside 9% of any issuance of SDRs to help poorer countries.

The US is blocking an SDR issuance but the JDC believes there is the possibility of a change of heart after next month’s presidential election.

The JDC said a combination of gold sales and SDRs would raise enough to cancel all the debts owed by the poorest countries to multilateral organisations, including the IMF and World Bank, until 2024. This would save the countries $70bn.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said: “Gold reserves provide fundamental strength to the IMF’s balance sheet, enabling the Fund to lend safely and at low cost to its member countries. This is particularly important at present, when the IMF is undertaking exceptionally large support for its membership, including its poorest member countries, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The IMF has no plans to sell gold at this time.

“The IMF has approved emergency financing of over $10bin to 47 low-income countries since March and last week we extended a second six-month tranche of debt service relief in grant form for 28 poor countries, funded by richer countries.”