This paper discusses developments and issues concerning export credits from the perspective of the economic adjustment process of indebted developing countries. This emphasis is consistent with the principle that officially supported export credit—whether it takes the form of direct official credits or insurance and guarantees on privately funded credits—is an instrument of commercial financing for exports and not a means of aid finance. All creditor governments have a broad range of objectives in using the economic instruments at their disposal to help overcome the adjustment problems of heavily indebted countries, with which important bilateral trade relations are being maintained. In support of an expansion in world trade and notwithstanding the competitive element, export credit insurance and guarantees may have a special role in helping to catalyze private credit flows, especially since such a role coincides with the interest of private lenders to shift away from general purpose balance of payments finance to trade and project finance.
Non-fuel primary commodity prices fell in the second half of 1989, breaking the upward trend that had prevailed in the preceding two years. The decline in the Fund’s index of non-fuel commodity prices from the first half of 1989 to the second half of the year was 7 percent in terms of SDRs and 8 percent in terms of U.S. dollars.1 By contrast, petroleum prices increased during 1989, reversing the downward trend of the previous two years. The Fund’s indicative petroleum price—an average of prices for U.K. Brent light crude, Dubai medium crude, and Alaska north slope heavy crude—rose on a year-to-year basis by 38 percent in SDR terms and 33 percent in terms of dollars during the second half of 1989.
This paper reviews recent developments in multilateral official debt restructuring during 1988 and 1989.1 This period was marked by two significant trends: debtor countries increasingly relied on debt reschedulings through the Paris Club and official creditors further adapted their policies in response to protracted problems in the most heavily indebted low-income countries.2
Prices of food commodities, which began to recover in 1987, peaked during the first half of 1989. Since then food prices have weakened and are expected to weaken further in 1990. The aggregate index of food prices, after increasing by 23 percent in 1988, averaged a modest 8 percent rise in 1989 (Table 5). As a result, the index stood at its highest level since 1984, just prior to the long downward trend that bottomed out in the first half of 1987.
From 1976 through 1989, 50 debtor creditors concluded 150 multilateral rescheduling agreements with official creditors for a cumulative cash-flow relief of nearly $110 billion.4 During the first half of the 1980s, Paris Club creditors consolidated $19 billion in 46 reschedulings for 21 countries. Activity in the Paris Club more than doubled during the second half, as 45 debtor countries obtained 93 rescheduling agreements and the amount consolidated by official creditors more than quadrupled to $85 billion.
In contrast to the overall index of non-fuel commodity prices, which rose by 4 percent, the index of beverage prices fell by nearly 13 percent in 1989 (Table 6). The decline, which was the third in as many years, is largely attributable to supply factors. Increased production of coffee and cocoa in lagged response to the high prices of the late 1970s was the main factor contributing to the increase in the overall supply of beverages. After the sharp increase by nearly 11 percent in 1987, which reflected to a considerable degree the recovery of Brazilian coffee production from the severe 1985 drought, the index of world supply of beverages rose by a further 5 percent in 1988 and by 3 percent in 1989. World consumption of beverages is estimated to have increased by 2 percent per annum during these three years. As a result of the widening disparity between world supplies and consumption, the overall level of world stocks of beverages has increased during this period; the index of closing stocks rose by 37 percent in 1987, by over 8 percent in 1988, and by more than 5 percent in 1989.
Official creditors have provided cash-flow relief to a large number of low-income countries through Paris Club reschedulings. SAF- and ESAF-eligible countries account for half of the Paris Club rescheduling countries but were involved in nearly two thirds of the reschedulings since 1976, as most of these countries had repeatedly sought relief from the Paris Club (Chart 6). Generally the reschedulings for these countries were more comprehensive in coverage and percentage of debts rescheduled than those for other creditors. However, given the protracted nature of their balance of payments problems, many of these countries experienced serious difficulties in adhering to the repayment schedules from previous agreements, largely because, as creditors recognized, the repeated application of standard terms over a long period had not provided an adequate response to the medium-term debt-servicing problems of the poorest and most heavily indebted countries.
After a rapid recovery in 1987, the overall price index for agricultural raw materials fluctuated around a fairly flat trend in 1988 and 1989 (Table 7 and Chart 6), indicating a movement toward broad balance in the markets for these commodities. World consumption of agricultural raw materials, which grew at an average annual rate of 5 percent in the years 1985–86, rose by an average 2 percent a year thereafter, while the index of production decelerated from 3 percent in 1988 to 1 percent in 1989. The overall price index for agricultural raw materials is expected to register virtually no change in 1990. This forecast is premised on continued moderate growth in world consumption of these commodities, the absence of significant supply disruptions, and the continued long-term impact of productivity increases and the development of synthetic substitutes.