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Political solutions for third-world debt

THE world debt problem has moved to the international political arena - to the advantage of central bankers, commercial banks, and the debtor nations themselves.

The short-term financial rescue agreement put together for Argentina during the past few days must be considered a remarkable international economic milestone. It shows that the world financial community and debtor nations are prepared to work in tandem to avoid a global banking crisis.

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At the same time, the short-term arrangement once again underscores the need for comprehensive long-range solutions to avoid last-minute problems as occurred with Argentina, when it appeared that nation would not be able to meet cumulative back payments to a number of United States banks.

* Central banks and the major lending governments would seem wise in developing more uniform lending rules for overseas loans.

* More low-interest loan capital must be made available to a new international lending institution, or, existing agencies such as the International Monetary Fund. Lurching from debt crisis to debt crisis makes little sense in an era of high-speed computers and global political and financial agencies.

* Fresh loan dollars for third-world nations are essential for an expanding world economy. For the US alone, the third world purchases 40 percent of all US exports.

At the least, the Argentine rescue package enables the new civilian goverment of President Raul Alfonsin to meet overdue interest payments on its massive $43 billion debt.

That is not to suggest, of course, that the debt problem, for Argentina or other debtor nations, is resolved, or that debtor nations will not continue to seek a substantial rescheduling of their loan agreements.

In fact, the new agreement may well make such renegotiations - at far more favorable terms to the debtor nations than at present - even more likely. Some experts even believe that a ''debtor cartel'' could emerge, in which the major debtor nations present a common front in working out more favorable interest-payment terms.

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The Argentine package was worked out by six governments, 11 major US banks, and the Federal Reserve Board, among other groups. Under the short-term plan, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia will lend Argentina $300 million to pay overdue interest on its foreign debt. Argentina will use $100 million of its own reserves. The United States will lend Argentina $300 million once that nation signs an austerity agreement with the IMF. The short-term US loan will enable Argentina to pay back its four Latin neighbors.

One would be remiss in not pointing out the one disturbing factor in all this; namely, that the huge short-term loan to Argentina will go for debt servicing, rather than for investment in new industry in that nation itself. Debt servicing continues to absorb more and more available capital resources throughout the world. To an extent, that is also happening in the US, where the federal debt continues to swell because of the large federal budget deficits.

Obviously, developing nations need to get control over their national debt through comprehensive policies - including austerity agreements with the IMF - to avoid an endless series of short-term rescues.

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