Vatican to UN: cancel debts to help poor nations overcome pandemic

Archbishop Caccia Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. Courtesy photo.

A Vatican representative called Wednesday for the cancelation of the debt of poor countries facing a "triple economic shock" as a result of the coronavirus crisis. 

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said Oct. 7 that debt repayments and the pandemic have forced governments to "divert scarce national resources from fundamental programs of education, health and infrastructure to debt payments."

"In light of this, the Holy See would like to encourage the international community to address the growing economic imbalances among states by way of debt restructuring and ultimately the 'cancelation of the debt of the most vulnerable countries, in recognition of the severe impacts of the medical, social and economic crises they face as a result of COVID-19,'" the archbishop said, quoting Pope Francis' message for this year's World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

Caccia made the comments in an address to a committee on macroeconomic policy during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. 

The archbishop noted that the coronavirus had had a "devastating impact" on the global economy, citing a "sobering" assessment from the UN Secretary General António Guterres: "The economic and social disruptions caused by COVID-19 brought about an unprecedented collapse of international trade in the first half of 2020."

Caccia said that the impact was felt most in the world's poorest countries.

"Developing countries, for example, are being hit by a triple economic shock of collapsing export demand, falling commodity prices and unprecedented capital flight, while also having to manage the pandemic with often inadequate health systems," he explained.

The Holy See official called for recovery efforts to focus on two areas: funding struggling small businesses and offering a safety net for workers in informal employment.

He said: "Men and women are being laid off from jobs in construction, catering and hospitality, domestic service, retail and part-time or seasonal occupations, and are no longer able to meet rent payments or put food on the table."

"Many of these workers are migrants, without proper documentation, and unable to file for benefits. They turn to charitable organizations and religious institutions for survival while living on the peripheries of society. We have a particular responsibility to attend to their daily needs."

In another statement the same day, Caccia highlighted the plight of migrants amid the pandemic, asking all states to support the Global Compact for Migration, a 2016 intergovernmental agreement. 

In his statement on macroeconomic policy, the archbishop also urged UN member states to increase cooperation to reduce illicit financial flows, which he said deprived countries of "desperately needed" funds for public services.

"Macroeconomic policy is not only about numbers, as we see readily in the faces of migrant workers left without jobs and needing to decide between an evening meal or sending remittances to their families, as well as in the dilemma of national governments having to choose between anti-corruption efforts, vocational training or COVID relief efforts," Caccia said.

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