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African Ministers Call for Reforms of IMF’s Special Drawing Rights System

African Ministers called for reforms of the International Monetary Fund or IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) system to strengthen the global financial safety net and make more liquidity available to developing countries.

The call for reforms was made during a meeting of the Africa High-level Working Group on the Global Financial Architecture on the margins of the 2023 Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Coordinated by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Working Group comprises African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, the African Union, the AfDB, Afreximbank, and the World Bank, and includes the participation of IMF staff and Executive Directors.

The Group serves as a forum to develop reform proposals for the global financial architecture and strengthen the African voice on the global stage.

SDRs’ Original Design and SDRs in Practice

During the meeting, ECA’s Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist Hanan Morsy delivered a presentation on reforming the SDR allocation and rechanneling mechanism.

The SDR system came into existence in 1968 with the aim of supplementing official reserves and facilitating global liquidity.

The IMF’s Articles of Agreement stipulate that SDR allocations are meant to be considered every five years, referred to as “basic period”, and also allow for SDR allocations in response to “unexpected major developments”.

Throughout the 12 “basic periods” since the inception of the SDR system, there have been merely four general allocations and one special allocation (with two notable ones in 2009 and 2021).

This is despite the fact that global macroeconomic conditions would have warranted more frequent allocations during this time.

Ms. Morsy emphasized that, when SDRs are allocated, they tend to disproportionately benefit countries that are less in need of them. This is because SDRs are distributed in proportion to existing IMF quotas, which are primarily a function of an economy’s size and relative position in the world economy.

For instance, during the 2021 general SDR allocation of $650 billion, high-income countries, which are least likely to require or utilize SDRs, received approximately $450 billion, constituting almost 70% of the total allocation.

Africa, with a population exceeding 1.4 billion, received fewer SDRs than Germany, a country with a population of only 83 million.

According to the ECA, the ministers emphasized the need for SDR allocation decisions to be made in a rule-based analytical manner to reduce the discretionary and political nature of the allocation process.

The “Unexpected Major Developments” provision needs to be clarified and operationalized to include the following triggers: force-majeure exogenous shocks, such as pandemics or natural disasters, global recessions, and significant capital flow reversals from emerging and developing economies.

Ensuring that SDRs are distributed effectively to where they are most needed

The ministers underscored the importance of ensuring that SDRs are directed to countries that require them most.

They advocated for the rechanneling of SDRs to Multilateral Development Banks, such as the AfDB, as a means to achieve this goal, and called upon SDR donor countries to participate in the proposal and thereby enable its implementation.

Moreover, the ministers called for reforming the SDR rechanneling mechanism to promote greater utilization.

First, suggestions were made to reform the SDR intermediation system. Second, the ministers recommended that the IMF Executive Board could consider updating the SDR’s “reserve asset characteristic” to align with the wide-ranging and unconditional contemporary use of reserve assets. Lastly, they called for increased measures by the IMF to promote transparency in the SDR market.

The ministers further urged for a reform of the SDR allocation formula to take into account countries’ liquidity needs in addition to IMF quotas.

By doing so, they said, a greater proportion of future SDR allocations would reach countries with the largest liquidity needs, thus enhancing the effectiveness of SDR allocations in stabilizing the global economy.