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Leaders hold talks in Paris to revive African economies

PARIS (AP) — More than 20 heads of state and government from Africa held talks in Paris with the heads of international organizations Tuesday on how to revive the continent’s economy, which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted deeply.

Some European leaders and high-level representatives from the U.K., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also attended the summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Other officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, planned to take part via videoconference.

The discussion is focused on finding ways to inject billions of dollars into African economies with the support of international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Union.

France’s aim is for “new and ambitious solutions to be found so that Africa is able to face this unprecedented crisis and return to growth, like other continents,” the French presidency said in a statement.

Macron called on the international community to set a “new deal” for Africa nations.

“If we succeed in getting mobilized in the coming weeks and months, not only will we be able to respond to urgent needs…but also to make from that situation an opportunity to tackle problems we’ve seen for a long time,” he said ahead of the summit.

“This is a great opportunity for Africa,” said Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, the current head of the African Union, said. The pandemic “left our economies impoverished because we had to use all the means we had, the few means we had, to fight against the disease.”

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva praised the summit as a “very important moment. We have gathered here to reverse what has developed as a very dangerous divergence between advanced economies and developing countries, especially Africa.”

The European Union last year adopted a 750 billion-euro ($910 billion) pandemic recovery plan. The U.S. Congress approved a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March. .

The International Monetary Fund has allocated a $23 billion package to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, whose economies shrank by 1.9% combined in 2020.

Macron said Tuesday that the financing needs of the continent are estimated to about $285 billion by 2025.

The IMF is expected to confirm in June a decision, backed by France and the United States, to issue $650 billion worldwide in Special Drawing Rights (SDR), a foreign exchange tool used to help finance imports. The SDR would include $34 billion for the African continent.

France is pushing for reallocating to African nations some of the amounts initially going to advanced economies, in order to increase their ability to import, for example, medical equipment.

France also is proposing that the World Bank institution in charge of helping the poorest countries raise up to $90 billion by the end of the year.

The leaders attending Tuesday’s summit are also expected to discuss debt relief initiatives and how to reduce interest rates for Africa’s private sector to boost investment and growth.

Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press