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IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath takes questions at the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2019.JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/Reuters

Private sector participation will be essential to ensuring the success of a debt relief initiative launched by the Group of 20 major economies for the world’s poorest countries, the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund said on Monday.

The G20′s offer to suspend official bilateral debt service payments by the poorest countries would likely need to be extended beyond the end of the year, Gita Gopinath told an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

“We absolutely would want the private sector to also be involved,” she said. “That would be essential now going forward.”

The G20 secretariat last week said 41 of 73 eligible poor countries had applied for the temporary suspension of debt service payments, freeing billions of dollars of funding for the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The World Bank estimates the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) agreed by G20 members and the Paris Club of official creditors in April could free up $12 billion for countries to spend on combating the novel coronavirus.

The initiative has had mixed results, with some countries reluctant to seek relief out of concern it could harm their credit ratings and access to international capital markets.

Gopinath said she viewed the glass as “half full” and said the G20 initiative for official bilateral debts was an “important step” to help the poorest countries.

Private sector support for the debt initiative is likely to be a key topic when G20 finance ministers meet online in July.

World Bank President David Malpass last week told Reuters the G20 initiative had made good progress, but he called for additional relief and greater participation by private sector creditors.

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