Debt Sustainability, Brazil, and the IMF
Those who have watched financial crises in emerging economies over the past two years would have noticed two things. First, there has been a high concentration of financial crises in Latin America. Second, debt problems have been at the heart of several recent crises, including the prominent ones in Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, and Uruguay. This paper discusses issues of debt sustainability in emerging economies. After providing in section II a brief account of the hard times that have recently fallen on Latin America, Goldstein presents in section III a few summary debt statistics for several recent crisis economies. Section IV draws attention to a group of pitfalls in the standard framework for assessing government debt sustainability in emerging economies. Section V examines the factors influencing near-term debt dynamics in Brazil. After outlining several positive features of the Brazilian economy that did not exist in Argentina on the eve of the latter's recent crisis, he lays out the arguments for expecting that economic growth in Brazil this year will be slow (only slightly above 1 percent), that the real interest rate on the public debt will be relatively high (about 10-1/2 percent), and that the government is unlikely to deliver a primary surplus in the budget much beyond 4 percent of GDP. Despite the good start made by the new Lula government, the author maintains that the debt situation remains precarious; he argues that the Brazilian authorities should aim for a primary surplus, particularly when the global economy is heading into a period with increased downside risk. He also explains why Brazil's central bank should be granted (de jure) operational independence as soon as possible and why maximum efforts should be made to negotiate trade arrangements that increase Brazil's low level of trade openness. If the recent market rally fizzles and interest rates, capital flows, and the exchange rate again take a significant adverse turn, serious consideration ought to be given to doing a major debt restructuring with the cooperation and support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Finally, in section VI, Goldstein draws some implications of these debt issues for the policies of the IMF and of its major shareholders (the G-7 countries). He concludes that IMF surveillance needs to pay much greater attention than it has in the past to the build-up of vulnerable domestic and external debt positions in emerging economies, that the Fund has to adopt a tougher position in making debt sustainability a key condition for IMF lending, and that there would be an important role for IMF financing in easing the adjustment costs of a necessary debt restructuring.
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