Apr 9, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: House Dems bring bill to nix IMF fees that cost countries billions

Illustration of a stack of money wrapped up in a terms and conditions document.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The International Monetary Fund has quietly been assessing enormous surcharges on its largest borrowers for years, to build up its capital base. Now that its funds are set to reach their target level, a group of U.S. lawmakers is introducing a bill seeking to effectively abolish the surcharges altogether, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The IMF, as a so-called super-senior creditor, always gets repaid — and therefore takes much less credit risk than other lenders. All the same, it now charges its largest borrowers — Argentina, Ukraine, and some 20 other countries — as much as 8.6% in their first year, declining only a little to 8.1% in year four.

  • Fully 3 percentage points of that 8.6% is surcharges, which end up making these loans significantly more costly than what individual U.S. homebuyers pay on their mortgages.

By the numbers: For Ukraine, IMF surcharges alone are likely to total $1.5 billion between 2024 and 2028.

  • For Argentina, surcharges for those five years are slated to reach $4.6 billion.
  • For Ecuador, surcharges are likely to comprise 39% of the nonprincipal payments it makes to the Fund.

Zoom out: IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said in 2022 that the surcharges were implemented when rates were much lower, and that it's worth talking about whether they still make sense.

  • They were implemented very quietly as a way to build up reserves and try to encourage countries to prepay their loans, but the former has now been achieved and the latter doesn't seem to have worked.

Between the lines: A 2022 U.S. law requires the Department of Treasury to try to secure debt relief for Ukraine. That can be interpreted to mean that the Treasury should do its best to put an end to the surcharges.

  • The IMF itself said last week that its board would review the surcharges policy this year, given how swiftly its balances have been rising.

What we're hearing: The bill will be introduced Tuesday by six Democratic members of the House of Representatives, led by Chuy García (Ill.) and Joyce Beatty (Ohio). It would ask the U.S. to push the IMF to conduct such a review immediately, and to suspend all surcharges while the review was being conducted.

The bottom line: It now seems clear that board-level discussions about whether the surcharges still make sense are going to take place in earnest this year — against a backdrop of significant pressure for them to be abolished.

  • That could be extremely good news for countries like Ukraine, Argentina, and Ecuador.
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