China's debt relief to support some stressed emerging markets: Fitch

FILE PHOTO: A man and a child sit in a park near the Central Business District on a “blue sky day" in Beijing in China, April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - China’s pledge to relieve the debt burden owed to it by some emerging market governments could ease near-term liquidity pressures in nations struggling with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Fitch Ratings said on Wednesday.

Kenya, the Maldives, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Pakistan, Angola, Laos, Mozambique, Congo and Zambia are among countries with a significant share of their debt owed to China and eligible for debt relief, Fitch said.

The Chinese government has committed to participation in the group of 20 major nations’ (G20) debt service suspension initiative (DSSI), which temporarily suspends debt repayments for 77 developing nations falling due between May and December.

Chinese financial institutions should consult with African countries to work out arrangements for loans with sovereign guarantees, President Xi Jinping said in a speech last week. Fitch said it viewed such loans as bilateral debt.

“China’s involvement in the G20 initiative marks the first time it is participating in coordinated, multilateral global debt relief efforts,” Fitch said in a note on Wednesday. “Relief from debt service obligations owed to China could play a role in easing liquidity strains faced by a small subset of the countries eligible for the DSSI.”

China accounted for more than a quarter of the total external debt of DSSI-eligible countries, the International Institute of Finance (IIF) has estimated, making it the single largest bilateral creditor to those countries.

Some, including Kenya, have said they will not seek debt relief, fearing it could harm their ability to tap capital markets, while others, such as Angola, may agree more extensive relief than is envisaged under the initiative, Fitch said.

In the same speech last week, President Xi also said China will exempt some African countries from repaying zero-interest rate loans due by the end of 2020. Interest-free loans form only a small part of total bilateral debt owed to China for most countries, Fitch said.

Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky