Approaches to Third World Debt Reduction

Edited by: Mike Faber and Stephany Griffith-Jones

May 1990
Volume 21 Number 2

It has been said that 'the liberty of the subject is secreted in the interstices of procedure'. In other words, resounding proclamations about the rights and freedoms of citizens are worthless unless procedures exist that are known, accessible and affordable which will enable the individual to exercise those rights through due process of a court of law. This dictum came sharply to mind a year ago when reading an account of the speech which US Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady had given to a conference of the Brookings Institution and the Bretton Woods Committee in Washington on 10 March 1989. What struck us immediately about Secretary Brady's proposals was the extent to which their success or failure in achieving their declared object of LDC debt reduction would depend upon the decisions and actions of parties outside the US government's control.

Those decisions and actions by foreign and US bank regulators, tax authorities, company auditors and legal advisers will establish 'the interstices of procedure' which must determine whether individual banks in different jurisdictions will or will not participate in Brady-type schemes in a manner that would achieve Brady's declared objective. One ofus predicted, based on a first tentative analysis, that 'the Plan's early results will probably give rise to frustration and disappointment' and 'the amount of debt extinguished in exchange for their accepting new obligations towards the World Bank and the IMF is likely to seem to debtors disappointingly small') It was that line of thought, namely that the success of any scheme of debt reduction would depend upon an accurate assessment of the reactions and initiatives of many types of actors in the Third World debt drama, that gave rise to the idea behind this Bulletin.

The Bulletin's purpose is to enable readers to learn something of the considerations which will determine how such actors are likely to respond not just to Brady, but to other forms of debt reduction initiatives. For that understanding to be complete, we have thought it necessary to enable our contributors not just to talk about their reaction to the Brady proposals, but also to explain their perception of the role of their own institutions and their interpretation of what it was that gave rise to the problems of excessive LDC indebtedness in the first place.