Pope Visits Iraq Amidst COVID Crisis, Conflict, Soaring Poverty and Struggling Economy

Shia Muslim Leader and Pope to Meet

Washington DC - Pope Francis kicks off a 3-day Iraq tour and meetings with Muslim leaders, government officials and representatives of the country's dwindling Christian population. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Iraq saw poverty numbers climb to 37% and an estimated 11% contraction in its economy.

"Iraq was already struggling before the pandemic hit and now the suffering is even worse," stated the Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA Network, Eric LeCompte. LeCompte advises the Vatican and Catholic leaders on economic issues. "The coronavirus crisis for Iraq means poverty has doubled and the country can't make debt payments and also pay workers."

In February the International Monetary Fund reported the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant decline in the country's main revenue source, oil. Coupled with challenges of corruption, the Fund estimated the downturn of Iraq's 2020 economy by 11%.

"The Pope's visit brings hope as Iraq's people suffer from the pandemic, conflict, corruption, soaring food prices and increasing poverty," shared LeCompte. "Like too many countries, it will take Iraq's economy years to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. Iraq's pre-pandemic economy wasn't great and already had too much suffering."

The IMF forecasts that Iraq's debt will steadily rise through 2023 and could see pre-pandemic economic outputs in 2024.

On Saturday, Pope Francis travels to Iraq's holiest city, Najaf, to meet with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani who leads Iraq's Shia Muslims.

"The meeting between Ayatollah Sistani and Pope Francis signifies the Pope's commitment to tackle world problems with people of all faiths," stated LeCompte whose organization is composed of multiple faith groups including Muslims, Jews and Christians. "The Pope took the name Francis after the famed St. Francis who met with the Muslim Sultan Malek al-Kamil in 1219. The meeting between St. Francis and Sultan al-Kamil is a symbol for Pope Francis of the critical importance of interfaith dialogue."

Iraq is the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, an important figure for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Read the IMF's recent report on Iraq here.
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Bloomberg Features Jubilee Letter to IMF on Special Drawing Rights

Bloomberg features Jubilee's letter to the IMF supporting special drawing rights in light of upcoming G20 agreements. Read an excerpt below, and click here for the full story.

G-20 Moves Toward Consensus on IMF Reserve Firepower Boost

By Saleha MohsinAlessandra Migliaccio, and Eric Martin

Yellen on Thursday endorsed strengthening support for developing nations, saying that “without further international action to support low-income countries, we risk a dangerous and permanent divergence in the global economy.” The IMF and World Bank “must continue to play a role in financing the global health response,” she said.

While an expansion in the IMF’s resources could help low-income nations in the fight against the coronavirus, the G-20 and others need to work toward “greater transparency and accountability” in the use of the fund’s firepower.

More than 200 groups, including the Jubilee USA Network, had called on the G-20 to support the creation of $3 trillion in SDRs. They say the funds are needed to provide debt relief in developing nations and help free up resources for health care and social spending. Some Democrats in Congress have pledged support for a similar-sized move.

 

Read the full article here.

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G20 Discusses Stimulus, Climate and Aid for Developing Countries

Washington DC – G20 finance ministers met Friday to discuss global coronavirus response. The group endorsed continuing stimulus plans in wealthy countries and supporting plans to increase aid and vaccine access for developing countries.

"If the stimulus plan in the United States moves forward, it translates to about 2 percent in global economic growth," noted the Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA Network, Eric LeCompte. "The G20 is moving forward debt relief, vaccine distribution and accessing global reserve funds for developing countries. The question is will it be enough and can it happen quickly enough."

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressed support for a process to deploy global reserve funds (Special Drawing Rights) to help low-income countries. She also highlighted implementation of the G20 debt reduction process agreed last year. The G20 tasked the International Monetary Fund to create a plan for the Special Drawing Rights for upcoming meetings.

“US leadership is pushing G20 actions on debt relief and the Special Drawing Rights,” LeCompte, a United Nations finance expert, added.

Earlier this week, Jubilee USA Network and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a detailed letter to Yellen and President Biden expressing support for debt relief, financial system changes to prevent future crises and a $3 trillion allocation of global reserve funds. Jubilee USA Network with Latin American partner, Latindadd coordinated a letter signed by more than 200 organizations urging the G20 to move forward Special Drawing Rights or global reserve access.

G20 talks also covered global policies to fight climate change and tax avoidance.

“The G20 hopes to agree on a plan by 2021 to curb tax avoidance,” stated LeCompte. "Perhaps the most important aspect of the G20 meeting was to acknowledge that G20 decisions on finance will have some of the most significant impacts on climate change."

G20 finance ministers meet again ahead of the International Monetary Fund meetings in April.

Read the press release from the Italian G20 Presidency here.

Read Secretary Yellen's letter here.

Read the letter from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jubilee USA Network here.

Read the press release about the Catholic Bishop and Jubilee USA letter here.

Read the press release and letter from more than 215 groups on Special Drawing Rights to the G20 here.

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International Cooperation Can Fight Corruption and Stop Tax Evasion, Say UN Experts

Report Asserts Trillions Available to Address Poverty, COVID and Climate Change

Washington DC – A UN experts report offers 14 recommendations to stop the loss of trillions in public revenues. The UN group argues that money lost to transnational crime, corruption and tax avoidance could be used to address the pandemic, poverty and climate change.

“The lack of transparency in the financial system impacts the vulnerable and our planet,” stated Eric LeCompte, the Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA Network. “Capturing the trillions in lost revenue is an important way to fight the pandemic and economic crises that countries face.”

The United Nations High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI Panel), includes former heads of state, past central bank governors, business leaders and prominent academics. Report recommendations range from identifying the owners of shell companies to international detections on hiding money and corporate disclosure of what monies are spent in the countries they operate in.

The FACTI Panel proposes a UN tax convention to set international tax and transparency norms as well as a tax dispute settlement system.

“The big lesson of the report, is that more international cooperation is needed to stop corruption, tax evasion and tax avoidance,” said LeCompte who serves on United Nation finance expert groups.

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Treasury Secretary Announces Support for Global Reserve Access, Debt Relief and Tackling Climate Change

Washington DC - In a letter to the G20, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressed support for the G20 to determine a process for how global reserve funds (Special Drawing Rights) could be deployed to help low-income countries.

"Yellen's letter is incredibly positive news and signals support for the creation of Special Drawing Rights or reserve funds to support developing countries," noted Jubilee USA Executive Director Eric LeCompte. LeCompte has pressed the G20 on Special Drawing Rights for the last year. "Secretary Yellen is right that the G20 debt relief process must be implemented in an effective way to deal with the debt burdens of numerous developing countries."

The letter also highlighted the need to implement a debt relief process or the G20 "Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the Debt Service Suspension Initiative." Yellen also encouraged the need for countries to tackle climate change.

"The letter from Yellen acknowledges that some of the most consequential decisions regarding climate change will be a part of financial decisions made by the G20," stated LeCompte, a United Nations finance expert. "These climate decisions must be made transparently and out in the open."

The letter comes a day before Yellen is set to meet with other G20 finance ministers. Earlier in the week the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jubilee USA Network sent a detailed letter to Yellen and President Biden expressing support for debt relief, financial system changes to prevent future crises and a $3 trillion allocation of the Special Drawing Rights. On Wednesday more than 200 groups wrote the G20 expressing support for Special Drawing Rights.

Read Secretary Yellen's letter here.

Read the letter from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jubilee USA Network here.

Read the press release about the Catholic Bishop and Jubilee USA letter here.

Read the press release and letter from more than 215 groups on Special Drawing Rights to the G20 here.

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Reuters Quotes Eric LeCompte on Yellen's Support for a New SDR Allocation

Reuters quotes Eric LeCompte on Yellen's support for a new Special Drawing Rights allocation to help poor countries. Read an excerpt below, and click here for the full story.

Yellen backs new allocation of IMF's SDR currency to help poor nations

By Andrea Shalal and David Lawder

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday threw her support behind a new allocation of the IMF’s own currency, or Special Drawing Rights, but said broad parameters were needed to boost transparency on how the reserves are used and traded.

Yellen said an SDR allocation and steps to boost low- and zero-interest lending by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would boost efforts to contain the pandemic and mitigate its devastating impact, particularly in poor countries.

Yellen also encouraged G20 members to use excess SDRs to support recovery efforts in low income countries, along with continued bilateral aid. She said she looked forward to discussing potential modalities for deploying SDRs.

Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network, which has coordinated letters backing an allocation, said Yellen’s letter was “incredibly positive news.”

Read the full article here.

 

 

 

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Devex Features Eric LeCompte on Yellen's Support for SDRs

Devex quotes Eric LeCompte on Yellen's letter to G20. Read an excerpt below, and click here for the full story.

In Brief: US Treasury indicates support for SDRs in letter to the G-20

By Adva Saldinger

The likelihood of a new issuance of International Monetary Fund Special Drawing Rights providing liquidity to low-income countries rose dramatically Thursday as the U.S. signaled its support.

In a letter to members of the G-20 group of nations, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that a new allocation of SDRs could facilitate “much-needed health and economic recovery efforts” for low-income countries and that the U.S. looks forward to “discussing potential modalities for deploying SDRs.”

With the U.S. on board, it seems likely the G-20 will support a new issuance of SDRs. During former President Donald Trump’s administration, U.S. objections were a key hurdle. There seems to be a consensus around an issuance of at least $500 billion, which the Italian presidency of the G-20 supports. But advocates have pushed for much more — $3 trillion — and G-20 leaders are likely to wait for an IMF needs assessment before making their decision, Eric LeCompte, executive director at the Jubilee USA Network, told Devex.
Read the full article here.
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Reuters Highlights Jubilee's Efforts on Special Drawing Rights

Reuters features the open letter Jubilee and over 200 organizations sent to the IMF urging a new allocation of special drawing rights. Read an excerpt below, and click here for the full story.

More than 200 groups urge G20 to back IMF issuance to help poor countries in pandemic

By Reuters Staff

In an open letter to the International Monetary Fund and G20 finance ministers, the groups said a new allocation of SDRs would boost the reserves of all countries and avoid pushing low- and middle-income countries further into debt distress.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers will discuss a possible SDR issuance - a move akin to a central bank printing money - when they meet by video conference on Friday. Proponents note that such a move will not add cost for the IMF members.

Italy, which leads the G20 this year, is pushing for a smaller $500 billion allocation of SDRs, which can be converted to hard currency by IMF members - a move backed by France, Germany and others, but still lacking support from Washington.

 

Read the full article here.

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More than 215 Groups Call on G20 to Access $3 Trillion in Global Reserve Funds for Developing Countries

Catholic Bishops and Jubilee USA Network Urge President Biden to Aid World's Poor

Washington DC – More than 215 organizations sent a letter to the G20 and IMF to issue $3 trillion in global reserves, known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). Spanning the globe, the signers argue that SDRs will help countries suffering from the coronavirus crisis and, "send a strong signal of renewed multilateral coordination..."

"For many countries, access to Special Drawing Rights is the only way to afford urgent coronavirus spending needs while avoiding a debt crisis," said Aldo Caliari, Senior Director of Policy and Campaigns of Jubilee USA Network, one of the letter drafters and leaders of the initiative.

On Friday, G20 finance ministers meet on the global coronavirus crisis response for the first time under the Italian G20 Presidency and will discuss SDRs.

"A new and significant allocation of SDRs would bring liquidity that countries urgently need and help stabilize their economies," explained Patricia Miranda, Advocacy Coordinator of the Latin American network LATINDADD, another drafter of the letter.

On Tuesday, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jubilee USA Network sent a letter to President Biden also urging SDRs action. The letter from the largest religious group in the United States and the interfaith development group encouraged the US to lead on a range of global pandemic response efforts, including increasing development funds and expanding debt relief. The letter sent to Biden also raised the need to put in place measures to prevent another economic crisis from happening.

Read the letter from 217 groups to the IMF and G20 here.

Read the press release on the letter to President Biden from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jubilee USA Network here.

Read the letter to President Biden from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jubilee USA Network here.

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Reuters and US News Feature Joint USCCB-Jubilee Letter to President Biden

Reuters and US News feature Jubilee and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' joint letter to the Biden Administration for global debt relief. Read an excerpt below, and click here for the full story.

U.S. Catholic leaders urge Biden to lead drive for more aid to poor countries

By Andrea Shalal

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and an alliance of faith groups urged President Joe Biden on Tuesday to back a big boost in the International Monetary Fund’s emergency reserve funds to help poor countries devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Biden, the governing body of the church said the United States should take urgent action to help the poorest countries on humanitarian grounds, but also to shore up its own economic interests and bolster trade with the developing world.

“The U.S. government is vital to ensuring the world emerges from this pandemic with greater resilience,” the groups wrote, citing a World Bank estimate that the pandemic would push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty this year.

 

Read the full article here.

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Devex Highlights Joint USCCB-Jubilee Letter to President Biden

Devex highlights Jubilee and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' letter to the White House for global debt relief expansion. Read an excerpt below, and click here for the full story.

In Brief: Catholic bishops call on Biden to expand debt relief, aid

By Adva Saldinger

The G-20 group of countries is nearing a consensus for an issuance of about $500 million worth of SDRs, but it is unclear if the Biden administration will support the move. Former President Donald Trump’s administration had opposed it. A $3 trillion issuance would require congressional approval, adding a hurdle that could be avoided with the smaller issuance.

The letter, sent by USCCB and the Jubilee USA Network, also calls for debt relief to be extended beyond the lowest-income countries and made available to middle-income nations. The G-20’s “Common Framework” debt process should “include the private sector, be timely, and cut debts to sustainable levels while lifting social protections and reducing poverty,” the letter states.

 

Read the full article here.

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The Record, Catholic Spirit and Catholic News Service Feature USCCB-Jubilee Letter to President Biden - Jubilee USA Network

The Record, Catholic Spirit and Catholic News Service feature Jubilee and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' letter to the White House for global debt relief expansion. Read an excerpt below, and click here for the full story.

Religious leaders urge Biden to support global coronavirus aid, debt relief

By Dennis Sadowski

Two religious leaders, including the chairman of a U.S. bishops’ committee, urged the Biden administration to support the release of $3 trillion in global reserve funds to help developing countries respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Writing Feb. 23 to the White House, the leaders also called on the Group of 20 nations, or G-20, and private groups to cancel all debt and increase aid for the poorest developing countries, stop tax avoidance and create a permanent global bankruptcy process to prevent future economic crises.

“The letter lays out a road map on how to deal with the structures that cause poverty, inequality and the challenges we now face in this great economic crisis,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, an alliance of faith-based development and advocacy groups that spearheaded the effort.

The letter to Biden comes after the president attended the Group of 7, or G-7 virtual summit of major industrialized countries Feb. 19, during which he pledged the United States would return to a multilateral approach in tackling global challenges.

 

Read the full article here.

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