Blockchain and crypto-related payment networks were on the agenda at the World Bank and IMF 2019 Spring Meetings, held in Washington. Photo: World Bank Group

Afghanistan and Tunisia are in a race to be the first country to issue a sovereign Bitcoin bond, according to interviews with the governors of the two country’s central banks.

The pair were speaking at the annual Spring Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, held in Washington between April 8 and 14.

Khalil Sediq, Governor at the Central Bank of Afghanistan, told Asia Times at the event that the country was seriously considering issuing a sovereign crypto bond that uses blockchain technology as an instrument to raise some US$5.8 billion in needed private-sector investment for the country’s critical mining, energy and agriculture sectors.

Sediq went onto say that Bitcoin could be coupled with a form of metals future, such as lithium, and noted that the value of Afghanistan’s mineral reserves was now estimated at more than $3 trillion. Afghanistan is set to become one of the world’s largest miners of lithium, a metal that is in short supply because of electric-vehicle demand triggered by Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc and others.

Afghanistan is facing severe restrictions on non-concessionary borrowing and a crypto issuance, argues Sediq, could offer a way to access international markets via a first-of-its-kind financial instrument made possible with hyperledger’s blockchain technology financial services platform.

Banque Centrale de Tunisie governor Marouane El Abassi, also speaking at the Spring Meetings, said the North African nation has created a working group that was also seriously studying the issuance of a sovereign Bitcoin bond.

Abassi, a former World Bank official, told delegates that Tunisia was one of the first countries in the world to issue an electronic currency, the e-dinar, and was already hosting digital cash payments through a Poste Tunisienne system developed by Tunis-based DigitUS Tech.

Abassi added that Bitcoin and blockchain hyperledger technology offers central banks an efficient tool to combat money-laundering, manage remittances, fight cross-border terrorism and limit grey economies.

Uzbekistan, which sent a high-level delegation to the IMF World Bank event so it could study Bitcoin and blockchain, should not be counted out in the race to issue the first sovereign Bitcoin bond, Uzbek Ambassador to the United States Javlon Vakhabov told meeting delegates.

An Uzbek Bitcoin bond could be combined with the cotton futures market, as the Central Asian nation is the world’s fifth-largest producer of that commodity.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, speaking at a keynote Spring Meeting panel discussion that examined how global financial systems and payments are changing, said she thought bond issuance using blockchain technology was possible, but should be done initially using a closed and supervised “sandbox” approach.

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