Front Matter

Front Matter

International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
March 1988
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Definition, Statistical Coverage and Methodology

A Report by an International Working Group on External Debt Statistics of:





PARIS 1988

Readers are invited to send comments or questions on the text of this publication to the organisation concerned. Those of a more general nature should be addressed to:

The International Working Group on External Debt Statistics

c/o The Bureau of Statistics

International Monetary Fund

Washington, DC 20431

United States

Publié en français sous le titre:


Définition, couverture statistique et méthodologie

Reprinted. 1992

© Joint copyright, Paris 1988, by The Bank for International Settlements, Basle; the International Monetary Fund, Washington; the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris; the World Bank, Washington.

The rapid expansion of the debt of developing countries in recent years has inevitably increased the importance attached to reliable and timely international statistics on the subject – not that precise data were needed to demonstrate the existence of a problem, but rather because only detailed statistics could show just how fast it was growing, how it related to other economic aggregates, which countries were affected and to what extent, what forms of debt were involved, how the burdens could be shared, and so on. These were all questions which took on political as well as analytical importance when debt went beyond the stage of bilateral – often private – negotiation to become a subject of international concern. Progress towards agreement on action called for at least a minimum of agreement on the precise meaning of the reported magnitudes.

It was against this background that the International Working Group on External Debt Statistics was set up. The aim of the Group (as it will be referred to for convenience from now on) was to promote convergence of debt recording practices, building on the existing bilateral co-operation between the four international organisations whose activities in the area of external debt data provide much of the subject matter of this book (together with certain others not specifically dealt with).

These four organisations are: the Bank for International Settlements (BIS); the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD);and the World Bank. The first meeting of the Group was held in March 1984.

The present volume is therefore partly a “progress report” on what the Group has achieved in its fairly short existence, with one chapter devoted to outstanding issues. It is also intended to provide the user of debt statistics published by these organisations with a comparative description of the statistics collected by them, how they are obtained, why they take the form they do, and how they relate to each other.

Perhaps the most important progress made by the Group has been agreement on a “core definition” of external debt. The background to the definition and the definition itself will be described in detail in Part I (Chapters I and II). The special emphasis placed on this core definition reflects not only the progress it represents towards common practices in reporting debt, but its utility, in the context of this report, as a framework for highlighting the particular features of the individual organisations’ systems. The chapters on the individual organisations are constructed largely in terms of the extent to which their statistics conform to those that would be obtained by full application of the core definition. It should be stressed, however, that not all the organisations aim at full coverage of countries’ external debt; some focus on certain elements only.

This means that the descriptions of the individual organisations’ debt statistics in Part II (Chapters IV to VII) can be presented in a uniform format in order to facilitate direct comparison. For example, users who find that the inclusion or exclusion of a particular type of claim makes the data from one organisation less suitable for their purposes can refer to the section with the same title and number in the other chapters in Part II to see whether the statistics published by other organisations meet their needs better. For the most important differences, the reader can also consult the synoptic tables at the end of Part II. However, the summary nature of the information that can be contained in such tables means that they should be treated as a guide to, not a substitute for, the detailed description given in the organisation chapters themselves.

The report is structured as follows: Part I deals with the formulation of the “core definition” (Chapters I and II) and reviews outstanding issues (Chapter III); Chapters IV to VII in Part II describe the four reporting organisations’ statistical activities (BIS, IMF, OECD, World Bank), reproducing specimen tables from their main publications. The synoptic tables will be found at the end of Part II. The book also contains: technical appendices, for the benefit of readers requiring additional detail; a glossary of the terms used, indicating differences in usage by individual organisations; and an annotated bibliography.


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