The 17 countries with the highest levels of public debt

LONDON – The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Survey examines the financial health and risks of countries around the world.

While Britain’s public debt is the cause of constant debate and concern for policy-makers and politicians, the ranking shows that Britain is not even among the top 10 countries with the highest levels of borrowing.

In fact, debt-to-GDP ratios around the world have increased in recent years as governments take advantage of historically low interest rates to pile up cheap debt before rates inevitably begin to rise.

Here are the 17 countries with the highest level of government debt.


17. Egypt —  97.1%. Following a period of economic turmoil after Egypt’s Arab Spring, the Central Bank of Egypt announced in April this year that the country’s public debt has increased significantly, a figure which is being driven up in a vicious circle driven by the current budget deficit.


16. Spain —  99.3%. Spain’s troubled economy is blighted by a 17.1% unemployment rate and one of the highest levels of public debt in Europe.

TripAdvisorMadrid, Spain

15. Mauritania —  99.6%. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a huge country with a tiny population of 4.3 million located in Northwest Africa. The IMF said in 2016 that its high level of public debt was linked to a 30% decline in the price of iron ore, which accounts for nearly 50% of its exports.


14. Belgium —  105.5%. In November, the European Commission singled out six EU countries as being on course to breach Eurozone regulations on government deficit, of which Belgium was one.


13. United States — 107.4%. Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said in November that she was “very worried about the sustainability of the US debt trajectory.” US President Donald Trump is currently trying to push through a tax reform package which could result in up to $US1.5 trillion (£1.1 trillion) in lost revenue over a decade.


12. Cyprus —  108%. Cyprus was forced to seek a €10 billion (£8.81 billion) rescue package following the eurozone crisis in 2013 and 2014, which sent public debt levels soaring. Its economy appears to be returning to health, with the public debt to GDP ratio falling faster than IMF forecasts.


11. Bhutan —  110.2%. There is growing alarm around the accumulation of public debt in the landlocked South Asian country, but a July report from the World Bank said its debt sustainability analysis “does not suggest an immediate risk of a debt crisis.”


10. Singapore —  112%. Singapore’s government says its public debt gives a misleading picture of its strong fiscal position, as it runs a balanced budget. “This situation is fiscally sustainable. This is because these reports only look at gross debt. Taking into account our assets, we have in fact no net debt,” a recent government statement said.


9. Jamaica —  115.2%. Jamaica’s crippling debt burden now stands above J$2 trillion, but it is falling. Its credit rating has improved and Jamaican bonds are now trading at a premium in international markets.

ShutterstockA night view of Kingston, Jamaica.

8. Mozambique —  115.2%. Mozambique’s public debt has been the subject of international controversy this year, after the IMF pulled its budget support for the tiny African state when it emerged the country had misinformed the fund about the size of its debts.


7. Gambia — 116.1%. Public debt is a growing problem in the small West African nation. Debt servicing occupies around half of the government’s budget revenues, impairing the authorities’ efforts to support the ailing economy.


6. Portugal —  130.3%. Portugal’s public debt reached crisis point between 2010 and 2014 when it became unable to repay or refinance its government debt without the assistance of external parties, sinking the country into a recession. Its economy is now recovering, and in November it made an early repayment of nearly €3 billion to the IMF.


5. Italy —  132.6%. The European Commission is increasingly worried about Italy’s huge public debt burden. In November a statement from the Commission said: “In the case of Italy, the persisting high government debt is a reason for concern … Given the size of the Italian economy, it is a source of common concern for the euro area as a whole.”

S-F / Shutterstock.com

4. Cape Verde —  133.8%. The tiny archipelago’s economy has been characterised by weak economic growth over the past five years, partly due to its heavy dependence on the Eurozone, which experienced a crisis. Its economy appears to be ticking upwards, but an IMF team visiting last year warned “Despite the positive outlook, the IMF team pointed out that “growing debt and weak economic growth associated with the appreciation of the dollar have increased the debt risk,” according to the Expresso das Ilhas newspaper.


3. Lebanon —  143.4%. Gross public debt stands at over £52 billion ($US70 billion) in the West Asian state. Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper reported that eye-watering debt levels have “slowed down the economy and reduced the government’s spending on essential development projects.”


2. Greece —  181.3%. The IMF warned in a confidential report in January that Greece faces an “explosive” surge in public debt levels which could spiral beyond 300% of GDP within decades unless it is given significant debt relief. The country has been battling a debt crisis since an economic crash in 2010.


1. Japan —  239.2%. Japan’s public debt stands above one quadrillion yen: ¥1,000,000,000,000,000 ($US8.9 trillion). It is the dominant theme of political discourse in the country. Japan is currently pursuing the doctrine of “Abenomics” — so named after prime minister Shinzō Abe — which advocates the “three arrows” of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms.

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