Unresolved sovereign debt problems and disruptive litigation are hurting debtor nations and their citizens, as well as their creditors. A default can also pose a serious systemic threat to the international financial system. Yet the existing “contractual” approach to sovereign debt restructuring, including the use of so-called collective action clauses, is insufficient to solve the holdout problem; recent empirical research indeed shows a drastic rise in sovereign debt litigation by holdout creditors. And the political economy of treaty-making makes a multilateral “statutory” approach highly unlikely to succeed in the near future.
This article, prepared at the invitation of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) for presentation at its 50th Anniversary Congress, shows why a model-law approach to sovereign debt restructuring should be realistic and effective. Nations and even subnational jurisdictions could individually enact a model law as their internal law, and contracts governed by that law would thereby become governed by the model law. Choice of law thus gives a model-law approach a powerful multiplier effect. A model-law approach could also solve the problem of pari passu clauses and address the critical need for a financially troubled nation to obtain liquidity during its restructuring process.
The article proposes a form of Sovereign Debt Restructuring Model Law, which has been vetted in discussions with leading experts worldwide and also embraces the Basic Principles on Sovereign Debt Restructuring Processes adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. At the very least, pursuing the Model Law in parallel to other approaches would help to develop norms for a sovereign debt restructuring legal framework that goes beyond mere contracting.
Steven L. Schwarcz, A Model-Law Approach to Sovereign Debt Restructuring (presented at UNCITRAL 50th Anniversary Congress, Vienna, July 2017)
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Public debts, Debt relief, International finance--Law and legislation