Developing Countries:

Status of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Debt Relief Initiative

NSIAD-98-229: Published: Sep 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) implementation of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative; and (2) initiative's potential to achieve its stated goal of bringing poor countries' debts to sustainable levels.

GAO noted that: (1) the HIPC initiative will help reduce participating poor countries' debt burdens, in some cases, substantially; however, many will remain vulnerable to future debt problems even with sound economic policies; (2) the implementation of the HIPC initiative reflects compromise among the major official creditors on issues such as countries' eligibility and the total amount of debt relief to be provided; (3) in recognition of countries' economic vulnerablities, creditors have generally agreed on relief amounts that are at or close to the upper bounds of what the negotiated framework allows; (4) nonetheless, in order to avoid further debt problems, countries receiving debt relief through the HIPC initiative are assumed to maintain strong economic performance and continue to receive large amounts of donor assistance; (5) in most cases this assistance includes balance-of-payments support; (6) the HIPC initiative projections assume that countries will maintain sustainable debt levels in part through strong export growth; (7) these export growth assumptions may be optimistic for some countries; and (8) since many HIPC recipients rely upon a few commodities for their export earnings, they are particularly vulnerable to economic events such as a decline in the price or output of a primary export.

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