chapter  7
23 Pages

The Paris Club, debt and poverty reduction: evolving patterns of governance

ByTHOMAS M. CALLAGHY

For over 50 years the Paris Club has been one of the most important and powerful elements of global economic governance; yet its origins are obscure and its evolution murky. Considerable confusion exists about what it is and what it does. The Paris Club describes itself as an ad hoc, informal and “voluntary gathering of creditor countries willing to treat in a coordinated way the debt due to them by the developing countries.” It has “no legal basis nor status, agreements are reached following a number of rules and principles agreed by creditor countries.” In short, it describes itself as a “non-institution” (Paris Club, 2008). Yet, by early 2008, this “non-institution” had treated about US $523 billion in debt for 85 countries since the first agreement with Argentina in 1956. The country list breaks down as follows: 18 in Latin America, seven in the Middle East and North Africa, seven in South and East Asia, 38 in Africa, and 15 in Europe and Central Asia. These countries have ranged widely in their level of development, including Mexico, Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Russia, and Serbia. The Paris Club is usually seen as an informal, ad hoc, and highly

secretive multilateral forum of creditor governments that restructures the bilateral debt of “developing countries.” One former Paris Club chairman has called it a “paradoxical non-institution” that “seems more like an Anglo-Saxon club than a Cartesian organization” (Trichet, 1989: 109) while others claim that it is indeed an international organization masquerading as an informal forum for the convenience of the creditor countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, over which the creditors have substantial if not complete control. From very early on, the work of the Paris Club has been tightly linked to IMF-mandated economic reform efforts, which only intensified after the Third World debt crisis broke in 1982 and structural adjustment became a more generalized term.