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International Monetary Fund’s Sovereign Debt Risk Assessment

Context:

In the context of its Articles of Agreement, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) engages in annual bilateral discussions with its member countries. During these discussions, IMF staff gathers economic and financial data, engages in policy discussions with top officials, and subsequently compiles a report for review by the Fund’s executive board. Last Friday, the Finance Ministry released a statement titled ‘Factual Position in Comparison to IMF’s Article IV Consultations with India.’

Relevance:

GS3- Indian Economy

  • Inclusive Growth
  • Liberalization

Mains Question:

What are the risks associated with rising sovereign debt in a developing country like India? Suggest a suitable way forward strategy to effectively reduce the sovereign debt of a nation while maintaining the pace of development. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

About International Monetary Fund:

  • The inception of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was set in motion during the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. Established on December 27, 1945, the IMF has evolved into a global organization encompassing 189 member countries.

With its headquarters situated in Washington, D.C., the IMF is dedicated to:

  • Promoting global monetary cooperation,
  • Ensuring financial stability,
  • Facilitating and advancing international trade, employment, and global economic growth.
  • Functioning as a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN), the IMF holds a pivotal role in the international economic system. Originating from discussions among 45 government representatives at the Bretton Woods Conference, the IMF commenced its operational phase on December 27, 1945, with 29 member countries bound by the treaty.
  • Its financial operations began on March 1, 1947. Presently, the IMF boasts a membership of 190 countries and is recognized for its contribution to rebuilding international capital, enhancing national economic sovereignty, and promoting human welfare.

The Finance Ministry’s response to the Discussions with IMF:

  • The Ministry’s statement, issued four days after the IMF published its latest details on consultations with India, highlighted that certain assumptions had been made, incorporating potential scenarios that do not accurately reflect the factual position.
  • Specifically, the Ministry was addressing the IMF’s perspective, which suggested that adverse shocks could lead to India’s general government debt reaching or exceeding 100% of GDP by the medium term (by 2027-28).

Debt- to- GDP Ratio:

  • The debt-to-GDP ratio serves as a measure that compares a nation’s public debt to its gross domestic product (GDP). This metric provides a reliable indication of a country’s capacity to repay its debts by assessing the relationship between what it owes and what it produces.
  • Frequently represented as a percentage, this ratio can be understood as the number of years required to settle the debt if the entire GDP is allocated to debt repayment.
  • According to the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, the recommended Debt-to-GDP ratio is approximately 60%, with a breakdown of 40% for the Central Government and 20% for the State Government.
  • The Ministry clarified that this was merely a worst-case scenario and not an inevitable outcome. Additionally, it underscored that other IMF country reports present even higher extreme worst-case scenarios, such as 160%, 140%, and 200% of GDP for the U.S., the U.K., and China, respectively.

Relevant Statistics:

  • The combined debt of central and state governments was 81% of GDP in 2022-23, down from 88% in 2020-21. The IMF suggests that under favorable conditions, this figure could further decrease to 70% by 2027-28.
  • The Finance Ministry noted that the global shocks experienced by India in this century, such as the 2008 financial crisis and the pandemic, impacted the entire world economy.
  • In response to initial news reports, the Ministry clarified that its statement was not intended as a rebuttal to the IMF but as an effort to prevent misinterpretation or misuse of its comments, particularly the implication that general government debt would surpass 100% of GDP in the medium term.

Evolution of India’s Fiscal Position as per IMF:     

  • Semantics experts might debate whether the communication was confrontational or clarifying. India’s Director on the IMF Board had previously expressed reservations about the IMF staff’s conclusions on debt risks, stating that they “sound extreme,” along with concerns about other aspects of the economy.
  • In the broader context, the IMF staff’s perceptions of India’s fiscal position have actually improved over the past year. While in 2022 they argued that India’s fiscal space was at risk, they now believe sovereign stress risks are moderate.
  • This improvement is attributed, in part, to the ability of the central government, whose debt levels were around 57% of GDP last year, to meet fiscal deficit targets in recent times.

Conclusion:

It is crucial for India to reduce debt and expenditures to adhere to its commitment of bringing the deficit to 4.5% of GDP by 2025-26 from an estimated 5.9% this year. Although reacting to an adverse detail i


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