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IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said there is no consensus on the special drawing rights (SDR) issue yet.  (Photo: Reuters)
IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said there is no consensus on the special drawing rights (SDR) issue yet. (Photo: Reuters)

IMF mulls strategy to give needy nations SDR access

  • The IMF may redistribute unused SDRs of rich countries to low-income countries
  • A general SDR or increase in SDR allocations, mostly goes to countries that don’t need it

NEW DELHI : After India, the US and other countries opposed an International Monetary Fund (IMF) proposal to issue fresh special drawing rights (SDR) currencies to help countries deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the multilateral lender is thinking of redistributing existing unused SDRs of rich member-countries to low-income countries in desperate need.

IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said the SDR allocation issue is being discussed and that there is no consensus on it at this point. “Let’s be clear what the SDR can do. When you do a general SDR or increase SDR allocations, most of it goes to the countries that don’t need it. Because it is proportional to your quota, it goes to the very large economies. It does not go to the low income countries in very large numbers," she said at a webinar organized by the Princeton Bendheim Center for Finance.

Gopinath said the IMF is discussing an alternative mechanism with its members under which wealthy countries that don’t need their SDRs can lend them to low-income countries. “There is certainly a lot of appetite for this second strategy and that’s something we are working on," she added.

SDR is an international reserve asset comprising the dollar, euro, yen, sterling and yuan, and allocated to IMF members according to their quota. India has 13,114 million SDRs on account of its 2.76% quota while the US has 82,994 million SDRs due to its 17.45% quota. China with 6.41% quota has 30,483 million SDRs at the IMF. On 8 June, one SDR was valued at $1.38.

A rush to safety by investors has triggered an outflow of capital from many least developed and developing economies, many of whom have seen their fiscal space reduced by the virtual standstill of economic activity, preventing them from being able to import essential medical supplies.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres on 28 May called for debt relief for all developing and middle-income countries amid the coronavirus pandemic and urged the IMF to consider boosting global liquidity by issuing a new allocation of its SDR currency. “Existing mechanisms are stretched to capacity, and resources of the International Monetary Fund may not be enough. We have the tools to enhance global liquidity; I urge you to use them, and especially to consider a new issuance of Special Drawing Rights," he said.

Opposing the plan to issue $500 billion of fresh SDRs at a G-20 virtual meeting on 31 March, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said national forex reserves should be the first line of defence during a crisis like this.

“India sounded a note of caution on the proposed new allocation of SDRs of $500 billion, saying that in the current context of illiquidity and flights to cash, the efficacy of an SDR allocation was not certain. Observing that in the absence of a global safety net, countries rely on national reserves as the first line of defence against market turmoil and confidence crises and, consequently, extraneous demands for these reserves, not related to domestic monetary and financial stability, would be costly. It was stated that India did not support new allocation of SDRs," the finance ministry said in a report published on 15 May.

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