In the absence of an international insolvency regime and in the face of the continuing ad hoc and haphazard treatment of the sovereign debt of developing countries, we are demanding a series of contractual changes in loan contracts issued to sovereign states. These measures aim to provide guidance, fairness and certainties to borrower states and lenders as well as protect the citizens and environments of developing nations. The proposal moves away from institution or sector specific approaches to dealing with concerns over ‘responsible lending’ and ‘fair resolution of debt crises’ towards internationally recognised legal standards for responsible financing.
Eurodad’s Charter on Responsible Financing outlines the essential components of a responsible loan. These aim to ensure that terms and conditions are fair, that the loan contraction process is transparent, that human rights and environments of recipient nations are respected and repayment difficulties or disputes are resolved fairly and efficiently. Many of the provisions outlined in Eurodad’s charter are drawn from international treaties and conventions to which lender and borrower nations are signatories.
The issue of ‘responsible lending’ by both official and private creditors has been rapidly gaining ground in international discourses on debt and aid. The main driver of international interest in the former is probably the increased prominence of developing country lenders such as China, India, Venezuela and Brazil among others. This has unsettled many ‘traditional’ donors and creditors who are arguing – rightly or not – that ‘new’ lenders will contribute to new rounds of unsustainable and irresponsible debt in developing countries.
But other factors are also playing a role. The Norwegian Government has helped to stimulate discussions around creditor co-responsibility in lending to sovereign states by its October 2006 decision to cancel US$80mn in debt owed by five countries because the credits had been extended irresponsibly without due consideration for the needs of the recipient countries. NGOs are now intensifying their efforts to gain international recognition of the doctrine of ‘illegitimate debt’ and have been developing links with legal experts to try to develop this currently underdeveloped area of international law. NGO campaigning efforts have also helped to generate research studies on the issue by both the World Bank and UNCTAD.
2008 will also see a high level forum on aid effectiveness in Accra, Ghana. Most of the world’s largest donors have signed-up to the so-called ‘Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness’. This binds donors to a set of targets as they relate to developing country ownership of development assistance, its focus on poverty reduction and mutual accountability of donors and recipients.
As regards private creditors, the current crisis hitting the US sub-prime mortgage market has also focused international attention on the issue of ‘predatory lending’ by some banks and the need to enforce more responsible behaviour by lenders. Some commentators have suggested that these same principles be extended to the international lending arena.
Eurodad’s Charter on Responsible Financing aims to provide a robust response to these challenges. It outlines what mutual accountability looks like in practice and points to the inadequacies of current policy responses at the international level. Part One of the paper asks why this issue is such a hot topic and critically reviews some of the current measures available to promote responsible lending and resolve debt difficulties. Part Two presents Eurodad’s Charter on Responsible Financing.
The proposals outlined in the paper are intended to launch further debate at the international level into this issue. The Monterrey Consensus of 2002 states very clearly that “debtors and creditors must share the responsibility for preventing and resolving unsustainable debt situations.” In the run-up to the UN Financing for Development Summit in Doha in 2008, countries around the world have a unique opportunity to put these issues at the forefront and to debate seriously the proposals tabled in Eurodad’s Charter.