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Belize has not requested IMF program, says fund mission chief

(Adds bond price)

March 3 (Reuters) – Debt-strained Belize has not requested an International Monetary Fund bailout program, the fund’s top official in the country said.

Belize’s government and the IMF are holding online talks as part of what would normally be a regular review of the Central American country by the fund.

The discussions have taken on greater significance however following recent rating agency warnings that the country, which has a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 120% and already postponed some debt payments last year, is heading for default in May.

“The virtual mission is expected to conclude next week and we will communicate at the end of the discussions. The authorities of Belize have not requested an IMF programme,” said IMF Mission Chief for Belize Jaime Guajardo in an emailed statement.

The country’s outstanding 2034 bond fell 1.5 cents to trade at 38 cents on the dollar on Wednesday, near the 37.625 hit last month which was the lowest since June. It had rebounded as high as 41 cents in mid-February.

Belize voters overwhelmingly elected center-left opposition leader Johnny Briceno to succeed longtime Prime Minister Dean Barrow in November.

The election came at a time of widespread discontent over Belize’s economy, which was in the doldrums long before measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus decimated tourism, the main driver of prosperity.

Belize is a serial defaulter but Briceno’s government wants to press ahead with measures to stimulate the economy. It means the likely requirements of an IMF programme would prove difficult to balance. (Reporting by Rodrigo Campos in New York and Marc Jones in London; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Cynthia Osterman)

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