World's top economies lay out principles on debt sustainability at G20 meet

FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) - Finance leaders from the world’s top economies on Sunday adopted new principles to ensure countries that lend and borrow for infrastructure spending do so in a sustainable manner, a move seen as addressing concerns that China’s lending practices have saddled some emerging nations with huge debt.

U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso, Saudi Arabia's Monetary Authority Governor Ahmed Alkholifey, Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Mohammed Aljadaan, Russia's Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina, Vietnam's Finance Minister Tran Yuan Ha, South Africa's Finance Minister Dondo Mogajane, Managing Director of IMF Christine Lagarde, ADB's President Takehiko Nakao, India's Finance Minister Normal Sitharaman, Romania's Finance Minister Eugene Teodorovici and other delegates react as they pose for a family photo during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in Fukuoka, Japan June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The principles, signed off by the Group of 20 finance leaders who gathered in the southern Japan city of Fukuoka, called for securing transparency and responsible, sustainable financing for infrastructure projects.

“We stress the importance of maximizing the positive impact of infrastructure to achieve sustainable growth and development while preserving the sustainability of public finances,” the G20 finance leaders said in a communique.

They endorsed the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment as their “common strategic direction and high aspiration” at their two-day meeting that ended on Sunday.

The G20 finance ministers and central bank governors will seek endorsement for the principles at their leaders’ summit to be held in Osaka, western Japan, on June 28-29.

As this year’s G20 chair, Japan has been spearheading efforts to find common ground on ways to address an increasing number of developing nations saddled with massive debt for building of roads, railway and port facilities.

Some of them were part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which critics say includes high-cost projects that put borrowing countries in a debt trap - a claim Beijing denies, with President Xi Jinping in April saying the initiative must be green and sustainable.

China, which was initially cautious about the new principles, has become more accepting of the idea as it saw the economic and financial benefits of promoting high-quality infrastructure, Japanese officials involved in the negotiations on the principles have said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the debt transparency initiative was not aimed at reining in China’s Belt and Road, despite the Treasury’s past criticism that the program has saddled poor countries with unsustainable debt. He told Reuters in an interview that debt transparency was an important objective for all G20 countries.

“I don’t think that should be aimed at China. I think the answer is, this is an important initiative that should be a G20 initiative,” Mnuchin said.

While most of the Belt and Road projects are continuing as planned, some have been shelved for financial reasons including a power plant in Pakistan and an airport in Sierra Leone.

Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Christopher Cushing