The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board approved a bailout worth nearly $449 million for OPEC member Congo Republic on Thursday, potentially setting a precedent for other nations struggling under the weight of large debts to China.
Congo’s economy suffered from a sharp drop in crude prices in 2014, and debt levels had ballooned to 118% of GDP by 2017. But even as its oil producing neighbours secured IMF programmes, Congo’s negotiations for a bailout dragged on for two years.
The Fund demanded that Congo ensure the long-term sustainability of its debt as a precondition for a three-year extended credit facility programme.
Congo reached an agreement to restructure a portion of its Chinese debt in April.
“The recent agreement to restructure the Republic of Congo’s bilateral debt should be accompanied by continued good-faith efforts to restructure commercial debt,” said IMF Deputy Managing Director Mitsuhiro Furusawa.
Congo’s Chinese debt stood at nearly 1.48 trillion CFA francs ($2.56 billion) at the end of March.
Under terms of the restructuring deal, repayment of 944 billion CFA francs will be extended an additional 15 years. Congo, however, must pay off a third of that amount by the end of 2021 and China will not reduce the amount of principal owed, a process known as taking a haircut.
“There is a substantial reduction in the amount of debt service that would have been required during the programme period,” Alex Segura, IMF mission chief for Congo, told Reuters.
The extension of the debt’s maturity will also ease Congo’s debt service burden in following years, he said.