Rise in world trade may bring welcome relief to debtor nations

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

To the relief of debtor nations, world trade is picking up. With more exports, Latin American or other debtor nations should find it easier to earn the money needed to service their huge debts.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in its newly released review of the economic outlook, predicts 7 percent growth in world trade this year, easing back to 5 or 6 percent in 1985.

Economists believe such a rise in trade levels, reflecting continued world economic recovery, should do more for solving the debt problems of the developing countries than the list of 17 proposals made by 11 Latin American nations which met in Cartagena, Columbia, Thursday and Friday. Many of these ideas, though considered relatively moderate, are not likely to be implemented.

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These suggestions include setting up a process of consultation between creditors and debtors, a proposal that reflects the growing politicization of the debt problem.

As expected, the finance ministers and foreign ministers of the 11 nations - Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic - also called for a better deal on their nearly $300 billion in loans.

They suggested a ''drastic and immediate reduction'' in foreign lending rates to a level similar to what the United States Treasury pays on its debt (about 11 .5 percent nowadays), elimination of commissions and late-payment penalties when their debts are refinanced, and a stretching out of payments.

There is some sympathy in the industrial nations for the idea that commercial banks and governmental creditors should take some reduction in earnings on their loans to the developing countries.

The 11 Latin American nations, in their 15-page joint declaration, demanded that debt payments be linked to the export abilities of each country. Some countries are using more than half of their export earnings to cover interest or principal payments on their debts. Some economists hold that 25 or 30 percent would be more suitable.

They also urged the creation of a new mechanism in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to give compensatory financing to debtors when interest rates rise unexpectedly. The IMF already has such a facility to help a developing country when its commodity exports drop drastically in price.

Behind this new scheme, as well as the old, is the view that dramatic changes in world economic conditions (such as much higher interest rates) are not the fault of a particular developing country. So such a nation should get special aid.

The 11 countries further called for lower protectionist barriers to their exports in the industrial, creditor nations.

Despite some increase in such barriers in recent years, the OECD sees the non-oil developing countries getting a ''significant increase in export receipts'' in 1984 and 1985. It expects the ''impressive correction'' in the international payments position of these nations over the last few years as being ''consolidated and made more sustainable.''

The OECD also figures the developing countries, especially those with low or middle incomes, will benefit from rising prices for the tropical foods and raw materials many export.

Most Latin American nations have drastically slashed imports over the past two years. The leaders at Cartagena said this trend must be reversed to revive their nations' economic growth. The OECD says the current account deficit of all the non-oil developing countries could increase from an estimated $40 billion this year to $46 billion next year. Nonetheless, it expects the financial constraint on the developing countries ''to ease somewhat.''

The Bank for International Settlements, a central bankers' organization, explores in its latest annual report the possibility of the Latin American nations getting their international payments position into better shape. The exercise concludes that it will take ''several years'' - perhaps as many as 15 - for them to achieve a marked decline in the ratio of debts to exports, a key indication of the ability of a nation to service its debts. For Latin America, this ratio was 285 percent last year, much higher than the 175 percent in 1973- 74.

The bank also speaks of a need for economic policies aimed at faster export growth, noting how the Latin American nations have concentrated in the past on substituting domestic-made products for imports.

Encouragingly, the bank finds that the Latin American nations will be able to bring down their debt-to-exports ratios while at the same time increasing foreign indebtedness, though more slowly than in the past. This means the Latin American countries can step up their growth rates from the depressed levels of the last two years.

The 11 Latin American nations, in calling for more consultation with creditors, suggest this take place in the ''development committee'' of the World Bank and the IMF. The Canadians, at the economic summit in London earlier this month, also suggested a strengthening of this joint committee of the two international organizations. This committee meets next in September, prior to the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF. The 11 plan to get together in Buenos Aires before that meeting.

In general, there is some relief in the creditor nations at the reasonableness shown by the ministers at the Cartagena meeting. There was no talk of debt moratoriums, a debtors' cartel, or even of abandoning the current approach of negotiating debt reschedulings on a country-by-country basis. The ministers made an urgent pitch for concessions, but in a moderate fashion.

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