Sat, Mar 11, 2017 - Page 10 News List

IMF says key differences and ‘much work’ remain in Greece bailout talks

FROZEN PAYMENTS:Athens concluded talks with the IMF, although ‘differences’ remain ahead of a debt-relieving framework deal to be established on March 20

AP, ATHENS

Greece’s government wound up more talks with its creditors on Thursday without a breakthrough that would unfreeze bailout payments, and the IMF warned that “much work” remained before differences could be resolved.

The current negotiations were initially scheduled to end last year, and the delay has raised doubts about whether this is to be the year the country emerges from years of recession and flat growth.

“There has been progress in some important areas and we welcome that. However, differences remain in important areas,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said in Washington. “It’s still too early to speculate on when an agreement might be reached.”

In Athens, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said the main point of friction was Greece’s bid to restore collective wage bargaining.

Athens hopes to establish the framework of a deal by a March 20 meeting of European finance ministers, Tzannakopoulos said, adding that the framework would form part of a future “comprehensive agreement” that would include measures to relieve Greece’s debt mountain.

A deal would allow the release of loans from the nation’s 86 billion euro (US$91.1 billion) bailout, without which Athens will be unable to handle a summer spike in scheduled debt payments.

That would leave Greece staring at a potential exit from the euro, a scenario it has repeatedly encountered since the first bailout deal in 2010.

The left-led government has already agreed to extend austerity measures — expected to include further pension cuts and higher taxation — beyond the end of the current three-year bailout program in the middle of next year.

Nevertheless, it insists additional pain for austerity-weary Greeks after the bailout expires would be fully offset by benefits — provided Greece meets its ambitious budgetary targets.

Greek officials spent 10 days negotiating with the country’s European creditors and the IMF on required reforms and post-bailout cutbacks.

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