2021 Spring Meetings Opening Press Conference

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2021 Spring Meetings Opening Press Conference

World Bank Group President David Malpass will address the press during the World Bank Group/International Monetary Fund 2021 Virtual Spring Meetings. He will share his views on the key outcomes from the Development Committee, as well as the G20 discussions. He will also report on the World Bank Group's response to the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year, due to the coronavirus, the Management of the IMF and World Bank Group and their Executive Boards are adapting the 2021 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings to a virtual format. 

Website: The World Bank Group’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Read the transcript


  • 0:06 MR. THEIS: Good morning, afternoon, or evening, depending on your time zone.
  • 0:10 I'm David Theis, the World Bank's Press Secretary,
  • 0:13 and thank you for joining our virtual 2021 Spring Meetings press conference
  • 0:17 with World Bank Group President, David Malpass.
  • 0:20 Mr. Malpass will give brief opening remarks and we'll turn to your questions, and thanks  
  • 0:24 to those who sent questions in advance. We'll be looking for more questions online in real time.
  • 0:29 And just for your awareness, we may combine similar questions or edit for clarity or length;  
  • 0:34 so, appreciate your understanding there. Hope everyone is keeping well.
  • 0:37 MR MALPASS: Thank you David. Hi everybody. I want to give you a little context of the Spring  
  • 0:46 Meetings that are underway. There are multiple focuses: one is on vaccines; one is on climate;  
  • 0:54 one is on debt. And also one is on recovery, that's the goal of everyone working on this.
  • 1:02 I have been meeting with leaders bilaterally and also with groups. This morning was with the  
  • 1:09 G20. Yesterday was with the G7. The day before was  with G24, which is a group of 24 larger developing  
  • 1:19 countries. I have met with climate leaders, CSOs,  and private sector. Those meetings are going well.  
  • 1:26 And we have had panels – for example yesterday  Janet Yellen was on a panel with the World Bank,  
  • 1:33 with Kristalina Georgieva and myself. We had  interesting discussions. Tomorrow is with  
  • 1:39 Secretary Kerry on climate – a discussion with him  and other leaders on climate issues. So those are  
  • 1:49 going well and they're, very interesting. We're  going to do vaccines, primarily on some panels  
  • 1:56 on Friday. These are important discussions,  and one purpose of the Spring Meetings.
  • 2:03 The G20 this morning, I'll give you a little  context there. There's the good news that there  
  • 2:09 is faster global growth driven primarily  by the US, China, and India, having strong  
  • 2:18 rebounds. But there's also the concern that  there's inequality. Inequality in terms of  
  • 2:26 vaccinations, in terms of median income that's not  going up very fast for some of the countries and  
  • 2:32 may even be going down. There's the interest  rate differential, where poor countries face  
  • 2:38 much higher interest rates and they haven't  gone down the way global interest rates have  
  • 2:42 done. There is an inequality in terms of the  bankruptcy process, which is not available to  
  • 2:50 sovereign countries, so the poorer countries don't  have a way out of these very heavy debt burdens.  
  • 2:57 And there's also inequality in terms of access  to credit with a lot of the stimulus going to  
  • 3:02 the upper end, and people that don't have pristine  credit ratings, for example, or small businesses,  
  • 3:09 new entrants, women that would like to start a  business, having great difficulty getting credit.
  • 3:17 The G20 did, and we were very happy, they welcomed  the acceleration of the IDA-20 process and we're  
  • 3:24 looking to complete it by December, which is  important for the world's poorest countries,  
  • 3:30 because it's the World Bank’s very  effective platform to give concessional aid  
  • 3:35 and grants to the poorest countries.
  • 3:39 There was endorsement of  
  • 3:43 extending the DSSI that's the Debt Service  Suspension Initiative through the end of 2021,  
  • 3:50 and quite a bit of conversation, strong support  for transparency in terms of the debt contracts.
  • 3:58 There was also a discussion of the  Common Framework. The World Bank and IMF  
  • 4:02 are working closely together to have successful  implementation of the G20’s Common Framework to  
  • 4:10 deal with unsustainable debt situations. And  there was a call for the private sector to  
  • 4:18 provide comparable treatment with regard to debt.
  • 4:21 Of course, there was discussion of  taxes and climate. And on climate,  
  • 4:27 the World Bank last week, we announced the  elements of our Climate Change Action Plan.  
  • 4:33 I want to list several just to make sure  we've got those on the table. One is  
  • 4:38 more spending, higher targets. One is  better results, we really want to see  
  • 4:43 global greenhouse gas emissions identified  and reduced and set on a better trajectory.
  • 4:52 We will do more diagnostics in that regard  also help countries with their NDCs [Nationally  
  • 4:56 Determined Contributions]. We're launching  a new set of diagnostics called the Climate  
  • 5:02 Change Development Reviews for countries that are  high greenhouse gas emitters and also vulnerable  
  • 5:11 in terms of climate change. And we announced  that our financing will be Paris-aligned.
  • 5:20 There is lots of discussion within our plan and  within the G20 of things like carbon pricing,  
  • 5:29 and the taxation of carbon. And what do you  do with credit markets for carbon emissions.
  • 5:37 I wanted to close with a short set  of progress that we are making at the  
  • 5:42 World Bank, one is on vaccines, by  midyear we hope to have 50 countries  
  • 5:49 with World Bank financing available to buy  vaccines and also to do the vaccination programs.
  • 6:00 For the first time in our history we topped $100  billion in commitments over a 12-month period. So  
  • 6:06 there has been a big surge in growth in the World  Bank Group’s activities in response to COVID.
  • 6:14 We are making some progress on debt transparency,  though collateralization of debt remains a problem  
  • 6:20 and non-disclosure clause by some creditors  remains a problem. There's full recognition of the  
  • 6:28 debt problem facing the poor countries. I welcome  that. I mentioned IDA 20 earlier. And we've made  
  • 6:36 progress on Sudan, which is very important,  our programs are expanding rapidly there,  
  • 6:42 there's more work to be done and we  work closely with the IMF, on that.
  • 6:47 With that, I'll turn your  questions and back to David Theis.
  • 6:50 MR. THEIS: Thanks very much. And turning to the  questions, the first question we have is from  
  • 6:55 Doaa Abdel Moneim of Ahram Online, Egypt.  Following on your remarks, the question is:  
  • 7:01 "How could accelerating climate  action in developing countries  
  • 7:05 actually contribute to their recovery process?"
  • 7:10 MR. MALPASS: Thanks for that.  Two things that I'll mention.
  • 7:13 One is many of the poorer  
  • 7:22 countries are dramatically  affected by climate change  
  • 7:26 but are not major producers of  greenhouse gas emissions. We think 4%  
  • 7:34 of the global greenhouse gas emissions come from  the IDA countries, from the poorest countries. So,  
  • 7:40 one way they can benefit is if the rest  of the world is doing more, that reduces  
  • 7:47 their vulnerabilities and also provides  resources for them to adapt to the change.
  • 7:54 And then, second is the direct job  aspect of adapting to changing climates  
  • 8:02 and also providing food security  within regions. Those are going to be  
  • 8:09 big and important from a job creation standpoint.  So, I want to really emphasize the importance of  
  • 8:17 jobs in the poorer countries. The  populations are growing of young people,  
  • 8:22 and so we're looking for ways to have  private sector climates that are inviting to  
  • 8:26 new businesses and that allow job creation. Also,  as countries being prepared for the recovery  
  • 8:34 and allowing their economies to change to  the post-COVID environment, which is going  
  • 8:43 to be very different from pre-COVID. Those are  all positive opportunities for job creation.
  • 8:50 Thanks. MR. THEIS: Thank you, excellent.
  • 8:52 Next question comes in from Pan  Gao with Xinhua News Agency.  
  • 8:56 "The COVID pandemic is estimated to push  an additional roughly 120 million people  
  • 9:01 into extreme poverty in 2020. Does the  World Bank have any plan to reduce global  
  • 9:06 poverty and help developing countries to  recover more quickly from the pandemic?"
  • 9:09 MR. MALPASS: Very much. We have plans  for development, and we have a focus,  
  • 9:19 country-by-country, to see the developing  world do better next year than this year.  
  • 9:26 That's what the World Bank does and is  all about. That means reducing poverty;  
  • 9:31 that means having a better response  to climate change that's underway;  
  • 9:36 that means better education and  health care systems. Our commitments,  
  • 9:40 the World Bank commitments, grew a record amount  both in percent terms and dollar terms in 2020.
  • 9:48 In calendar year 2020, we were up 65% from  2019 in terms of IBRD and IDA commitments;  
  • 9:57 that's a record. And we're continuing to expand  the commitment capacity of the Bank. And IDA 20,  
  • 10:06 the acceleration of the next replenishment cycle  of IDA will help with that. All of this goes  
  • 10:14 together to the idea that we're trying to achieve  transformative, scalable change for people that  
  • 10:23 live in poorer countries. That can take  the form of better rule of law, better  
  • 10:30 access to the legal system for women, for girls in  the education system. The health care systems need  
  • 10:40 to be improved and be more available to people.  Critically, access to electricity and to clean  
  • 10:46 water are huge challenges for people in poverty  and for people even trying to move up in the  
  • 10:54 income scale. So, we work on all of those and  on infrastructure as ways to move forward.
  • 11:02 And, of course, as I've mentioned climate change,  
  • 11:05 unsustainable debt burdens are key  topics and work is underway on those.
  • 11:11 MR. THEIS: Thank you.
  • 11:13 Next question comes in from Julius Satsi  of Business Finder Newspaper in Ghana:  
  • 11:18 "What are the practical steps the  World Bank is taking to ensure that  
  • 11:20 the monies allocated to countries reach the  targeted individuals, groups, or sectors?"
  • 11:26 MR. MALPASS: Within the World Bank's processes,  there is substantial work given to ES&G. So, these  
  • 11:36 are safety guardrails that help guard against  corruption, against poorly designed projects.  
  • 11:49 And there's a substantial process within each part  of the World Bank Group to try to directly address  
  • 11:58 the issue. Of course, mistakes can  be made, have been made in the past,  
  • 12:04 and so we're working constantly to try to  correct those processes and move forward.
  • 12:14 One thing I'll mention is the importance  of anti-corruption standards. The OECD has  
  • 12:20 standards in that regard, and it would be good  to have all countries – and some of the major  
  • 12:25 economies in the world don't participate in  those standards, and that undercuts the effort.
  • 12:33 I will also mention, in general, transparency.  I've advocated that in terms of debt contracts.  
  • 12:40 Some of the debt contracts not only have  nondisclosure clauses on the creditor,  
  • 12:46 but also on the borrower, which is  highly unusual, and yet, that's become  
  • 12:50 the norm for some of the contracts in  recent years. And we also want transparency,  
  • 12:58 or we encourage it, in terms of the vaccine  information sharing. One of the biggest  
  • 13:04 challenges is to get vaccines flowing as  early as possible to the developing world  
  • 13:09 so they can begin the vaccination process.  And that takes more information sharing by  
  • 13:15 the advanced economies and manufacturers  in order to get that process started.
  • 13:20 MR. THEIS: Great. We've received several  questions on the debt issue from reporters,  
  • 13:27 including Leah Katung-Babatunde  with Nigerian Television Authority.
  • 13:30 So, I'm paraphrasing here. "What is the World  Bank doing to help developing countries,  
  • 13:35 including middle-income countries, address their  
  • 13:38 liquidity concerns and provide  debt relief during the pandemic?"
  • 13:42 MR. MALPASS: We're working actively in  collaboration with the IMF on the common  
  • 13:49 framework that the G20 established for dealing  with debt overhang and debt burdens. It's focused  
  • 13:58 on the poorest countries, the IDA countries, and  we look forward to progress on that. The G20 has,  
  • 14:06 I think, in the deliberations this week, a  call for the first creditor committee to be  
  • 14:13 formed under the common framework. I expect  that will be with Chad. We've been working on  
  • 14:21 the debt – Chad has requested assistance  under the common framework to deal  
  • 14:29 with its debt situation. So, we  work closely with the IMF on that.
  • 14:34 And the question is aimed at the middle-income  countries, which also many of them face access  
  • 14:43 problems to market-based finance, and they also  have rising fiscal deficits that are problematic.  
  • 14:52 So, I think, again, I'm going to fall back that  transparency is very important. I think also  
  • 14:58 we need to look for a more balanced relationship  between creditors and debtors. The creditor – the  
  • 15:06 system right now is favorable to creditors  in terms of using court enforcement of liens,  
  • 15:15 for example, to enforce contracts, even with  sovereign governments. Even with contracts  
  • 15:22 that are nondisclosed appear to be – or  are enforceable; so, those are challenges.
  • 15:29 And I want to mention also the  challenge facing middle-income  
  • 15:33 countries of collateralized debt. It  makes it very hard to restructure.  
  • 15:37 Ecuador faced this challenge in 2020 and was  able to disclose some historical contracts,  
  • 15:45 but not the current contracts and not  the collateralization requirements. So,  
  • 15:50 these are ongoing challenges for the middle-income  countries that I think could be improved.
  • 15:55 And I'll also mention that the type of Euro bond  contracts that have collective action clauses  
  • 16:04 but could be made more balanced in terms of the  relationship with middle-income emerging markets.
  • 16:12 MR. THEIS: Great. Another question related  to debt, but specific to Latin America,  
  • 16:18 from Alfonso Fernández, from the Spanish News  Agency, EFE: "Latin America has been the region  
  • 16:24 worst affected by the pandemic. How concerned  are you about a new debt crisis, and do you  
  • 16:30 think this could lead to a new lost decade in the  region, reversing the progress of the last years?"
  • 16:36 MR. MALPASS: GDP for Latin America declined  sharply in 2020. It will recover some, I expect,  
  • 16:45 at least numerically in 2021, but it won't  be able to get back to previous levels. So,  
  • 16:51 I'm very concerned about the human situation  in Latin America and the Caribbean.  
  • 16:57 One thing that can help a lot is the access to  vaccines. And so, I hope that deliveries can begin  
  • 17:04 by the intermediary organizations worldwide and  also by the manufacturers. Part of this is getting  
  • 17:13 the contracts in place and started up. The World  Bank is providing financing for several of the  
  • 17:19 countries and they can be large-scale programs,  but the countries are working to arrange delivery  
  • 17:28 schedules from the various vaccine providers.  That will be an important part of the recovery.
  • 17:33 I think also helping Latin America and the  Caribbean will be the strong recovery underway  
  • 17:38 in the U.S. That helps a lot from the creation of  markets. Latin America has a lot of capabilities  
  • 17:46 in terms of manufactured goods, in terms of  services that can be available. One thing that  
  • 17:53 can help Latin America is digital advances.  In some cases, the countries have been behind  
  • 18:00 what might be potentially available to them. And  I think each of the countries can look at its own  
  • 18:09 systems and look for areas where they themselves  can improve the systems either of transparency,  
  • 18:15 of the anti-corruption drive, of the  infrastructure drive, and all of those can  
  • 18:22 help progress. For the World Bank, we're  actively engaged really on a daily basis in  
  • 18:28 many of the Latin countries, working to have the  best programs that we can to support the people.
  • 18:35 For example, in Brazil, we're doing a major  addition to the social safety net that has  
  • 18:41 helped save lives. And we also, as I mentioned,  have the vaccination programs that are available  
  • 18:50 to provide financing once delivery schedules  can be determined from the advanced economies.
  • 18:57 Thanks.
  • 18:57 MR. THEIS: Great, thank you.
  • 18:59 A question now from Kamal Sahriar of Kolkata  TV: "These days, the COVID situation is bad in  
  • 19:06 Bangladesh. What steps should a country like  Bangladesh take to keep its economy afloat,  
  • 19:11 as well as to achieve the goal of widespread  vaccination, and what are the challenges there?"
  • 19:16 MR. MALPASS: I want to mention several things  on Bangladesh. I haven't been to Bangladesh.  
  • 19:24 In the last two or three weeks, we completed  a big vaccination operation through our Board,  
  • 19:32 which then makes financing available to Bangladesh  and also technical assistance from the World Bank,  
  • 19:38 which is very helpful to the countries as  they try to enter contract discussions,  
  • 19:45 and also as they work within their health  systems in order to vaccinate people,  
  • 19:49 to actually have the systems that can quickly  vaccinate once they begin to get deliveries  
  • 19:55 from the international system in terms  of vaccines, be it from COVAX or from  
  • 20:02 some other manufacturers. That's a critical  step in the recovery path for Bangladesh.
  • 20:09 I want to also mention adaptation. As climate  changes occur in the world, the population growth  
  • 20:16 has tended to be on the coasts for countries.  And so, a step is how do you save lives and  
  • 20:22 how do you have more preparation for climate  events that may occur for those populations?
  • 20:31 And then, I want to also mention, you know,  Bangladesh has made substantial progress. In fact,  
  • 20:39 they recently moved out of the least-developed  country status, the United Nations status on that  
  • 20:49 because of the advance in per capita income.  Bangladesh has allowed small manufacturing,  
  • 20:56 small businesses, which is welcome. They face  a big challenge from the refugee situation with  
  • 21:03 the Rohingya on their eastern border, and those  are cause for major concern for the world as you  
  • 21:14 have refugee situations that are so problematic  in terms of health and the safety of people.
  • 21:21 Final point, agriculture: For  so many of the poorer countries,  
  • 21:29 having an efficient land use and  agriculture system is a critical  
  • 21:34 part of the recipe for their growth path.  It's a necessary step in moving forward. And  
  • 21:44 Bangladesh has opportunities to improve and  make more effective the agricultural system.
  • 21:50 Thanks.
  • 21:50 MR. THEIS: Great. Our next question comes Tran  Nguyen of Zing News, Vietnam: "Does the World Bank  
  • 21:57 have plans to cope with pandemics like this in the  future?" So, a question about the next pandemic.
  • 22:04 MR. MALPASS: Thanks. Preparedness is very  important, and it's part of our programs.  
  • 22:12 We have an instrument called CAT  DDOs, which are catastrophic deferred  
  • 22:23 obligations where a country can arrange in  advance, showing its preparedness, and be  
  • 22:29 ready to take funds if there is a crisis. That's  not a big enough instrument for pandemics like the  
  • 22:37 COVID crisis. I think we need lots more work on  an international basis in terms of preparedness,  
  • 22:44 but it's a mainstream part of World Bank  programs, and we can encourage countries to do it.
  • 22:51 You know, it's a challenge for individual  countries, because poverty is widespread,  
  • 23:00 the argument is, how can I prepare for the future  when I have children that aren't getting enough  
  • 23:06 nutrition. That's a valid question for the world  to address. There's a benefit to everyone in the  
  • 23:13 world if we have people that are able to  move out of poverty and also prepare for  
  • 23:21 pandemics or other cataclysmic events.  And, I think we need global focus on that.
  • 23:30 More funding—I want to come back, IDA20, we  were very happy with the G20 endorsement of an  
  • 23:37 accelerated replenishment effort for  IDA, which is the World Bank program that  
  • 23:43 is specifically oriented toward helping the poor.
  • 23:46 I want to come back to—I heard that  the questioner was from Vietnam.  
  • 23:50 One of the challenges also that I want to mention  is on climate. Vietnam has been a heavy user of  
  • 23:58 coal and greenhouse gas emitter, and one of the  challenges of our climate change action plan  
  • 24:05 is to help countries with a just transition from  coal to cleaner or less carbon-emitting fuels as  
  • 24:16 they maintain their baseload capacity and their  electrical systems. It's critical for people to  
  • 24:22 have access to electricity, but there needs to be,  on a global basis, an ability to do that with less  
  • 24:31 greenhouse gas emissions. This is a high priority  for the world to think about the financing for  
  • 24:38 that transition for countries that have made  investments in higher-emission kinds of fuels. And  
  • 24:47 how do you move quickly out of that and get the  transition underway? That's part of our climate  
  • 24:55 change action plan, to move quickly toward much  lower emission fuels in the electricity grids.
  • 25:01 MR. THEIS: Thank you. And  just for attendees' awareness,  
  • 25:06 Mr. Malpass has a hard stop at noon for  an event on debt, but I'm going to turn to  
  • 25:10 the next question and we'll see if we can  get one more in, but certainly this one.
  • 25:14 We received a question--actually another  from several outlets, including Anette  
  • 25:17 Meiritz from Handelsblatt: "How damaging are  recent vaccine rollout problems in developed  
  • 25:23 countries such as Germany for the goal of  a worldwide recovery from the pandemic?"
  • 25:29 MR. MALPASS: The slowness in the rollout,  particularly in Europe, is concerning;  
  • 25:36 it's disappointing. And we see in the news  every day some of the various challenges  
  • 25:41 that the countries face. I fervently believe  or wish for and hope for a faster rollout as  
  • 25:53 excesses become available in other countries.  And we can look to the regulatory agencies to  
  • 25:59 work smoothly toward their approvals so that  more vaccines can be approved, safe vaccines.
  • 26:07 And that people—I encourage people to  be vaccinated. I think it's an important  
  • 26:12 part of their safety and important  part of the global recovery.  
  • 26:17 So, I share that sentiment that—Germany  said today at the G20 that there may be  
  • 26:26 a softening of their GDP growth forecast  related to the vaccine problem, and it  
  • 26:32 redoubles everyone's urgency and efforts  to have more vaccines available worldwide.
  • 26:38 MR. THEIS: Thank you. Last question from Lara  Barsi of Agência Nossa, Brazil: "What is the World  
  • 26:44 Bank doing to help Brazil, which is going through  major economic and health crises right now?"
  • 26:49 MR. MALPASS: Brazil faces many challenges. We  have had a big program in the social safety net  
  • 26:58 to expand Brazil's social safety net and  have cash available to people which helps  
  • 27:03 the families stay together and be healthier  or face the challenges day-by-day of Brazil.
  • 27:15 We're also working actively on  biodiversity and agricultural  
  • 27:21 challenges facing Brazil. But Brazil is a  big, vibrant country and has access to global  
  • 27:28 capital markets. And one of the things that can  help is good use of the maturity schedules of  
  • 27:37 debt so that Brazil has strong investment  from the private sector into the future.  
  • 27:45 And I'm hopeful that that can happen and Brazil  will be a beneficiary of the global recovery.
  • 27:51 MR. THEIS: Fantastic, thank you. Well, I know  that you have to get to the "Rethinking Debt:  
  • 27:56 Financing the Future Amid Crisis,"  event that's starting at noon.  
  • 28:00 I hope that folks can join that conversation.  You'll see it online at worldbank.org.
  • 28:04 Mr. Malpass, thank you, if you  want to have any final remarks.
  • 28:07 MR. MALPASS: We have a good week going for the  Spring Meetings, David. And I'm pleased with  
  • 28:12 the support that IDA20 is getting and our  climate change action plan. And our vaccine  
  • 28:19 efforts are expanding as fast as we can push  them forward. That gives us some optimism and  
  • 28:27 I have been mentioning the progress that we  made in Sudan toward renewed programs, there.  
  • 28:34 There's a lot of people, a lot of lives at stake  in some of these programs, so I think there is  
  • 28:40 cause for optimism on some fronts, even though the  global situation remains problematic into 2021.
  • 28:49 Thanks. Thanks, everyone.
  • 28:50 MR. THEIS: Thank you very much. And  this concludes our press conference  
  • 28:53 today. Thank you all for attending. And stay safe.

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