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IDB Report Outlines Progress and Challenges in Managing Public Debt in the Caribbean

Public debt load in the Caribbean has fallen sharply to near pre-pandemic levels, according to a new report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which urges governments to continue on the path of prudent debt management, given uncertain global risks. 

The publication reveals that the average debt-to-GDP ratio rose from 75% in 2019 to 99% in 2020 and is estimated to have fallen to 77% at the end of 2023. The sharpest declines were observed in Guyana between 2020 and 2022 and in Jamaica between 2010 and 2019. 

Dealing with Debt in the Caribbean, part of the Caribbean Economics Quarterly report series, explores the economic realities caused by the most recent pandemic and the pathways towards “safe” levels of public debt for a sustained economic recovery. The publication analyzes public debt trajectories and policy perspectives, among others. It looks at debt management in The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Main findings of this edition of the Caribbean Economics Quarterly include:

  1. Several channels can influence public debt trajectories—interest rates, inflation, exchange rates, economic growth, primary balances and stock-flow adjustments. All these elements have played a role in the evolution of public debt- to-GDP ratios in Caribbean countries over the last decade, but to varying degrees depending on the specific country circumstances.
  2. There are examples of large reductions in public debt-to-GDP ratios via a combination of institutional reforms and sustained primary fiscal surpluses (Jamaica) or more recent explosive economic growth (Guyana). Debt restructuring has also played an important role in reducing debt ratios in several countries.
  3. Caribbean public debt is “weakly” sustainable. Governments have a direct influence over primary balances and borrowing, so public debt is referred to in the literature as “weakly” sustainable when primary balances move in tandem with public debt. In other words, governments engage in a fiscal response by raising revenues and/or decreasing expenditures whenever public debt increases, thus reversing the trend. 
  4. Institutional strengthening of Debt Management Offices can play an important role in reducing risks of debt distress for a given level of indebtedness. 
  5. The attainment of a prudent, or “safe,” level of public debt requires a strong medium-term fiscal framework, often supported by fiscal rules.

“Governments across the Caribbean are lowering their debt-to-GDP ratios and strengthening their fiscal and debt management institutions to sustain these efforts.  Lowering the risk from excessive levels of public debt is a key condition for improving the prospects for future investment and economic growth,” said Anton Edmunds, general manager of the IDB’s Caribbean Country Department.

The IDB’s Caribbean Economic Quarterly recognizes the importance of financial literacy as part of the development agenda and empowering individuals and organizations to be aware of current realities within the Caribbean region with viable guidelines for future decisions.

With a commitment to fostering development, Caribbean Economics Quarterly continues to be a trusted resource for individuals, businesses, researchers and policymakers. Previous editions of this publication series are available here.

About the IDB 

The Inter-American Development Bank is devoted to improving lives. Established in 1959, the IDB is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social, and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IDB also conducts cutting-edge research projects and provides policy advice, technical assistance, and training to public- and private-sector clients throughout the region. Take our virtual tour



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