TWN Info Service on Finance and Development
G20 make progress,
but differences remain
Last weekend the G20 finance ministers made some progress in their pledge to deal with some important global problems, but differences remain and whether the pledges are implemented remain to be seen.
On 22 and 23 October,
the G20's Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors met in
The issues include volatility in currency movements, accusations that major countries were engaging in a “currency war” that could spill over into trade protectionism, huge capital flows that could swamp some developing countries with too much funds and cause inflation and asset price bubbles.
The communique indeed referred to these issues, but in general and in some cases rhetorical terms. It lacked specific details or quantitative commitments, and thus countries have the flexibility to interpret the principles and good intentions in their own way.
The differences in approach by various countries that were evident in the days just before the meeting may thus remain. But the fact that the meeting did not break down, and that at least some principles were agreed to, provides relief and some hope of future progress, perhaps during the G20 Summit next month.
The global economic problems remain, however. So too do the the differences of view, either among the G20 members, or between some leading economists and the policy makers of many G20 countries.
For example, the communique said that the advanced countries would implement “clear, credible, ambitious and growth-friendly medium-term fiscal consolidation plans”.
Many prominent economists including Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz in the US and Robert Skidelsky in Britain have strongly argued that the developed countries are making a big mistake in moving too quickly from the consensus just a year ago that they should undertake “fiscal stimulus” to get out of recession, to the present near-consensus that the same countries should now go on a “fiscal austerity” drive.
The big cuts in government spending (to reduce budget deficits) will cause their economies to sputter, before the recovery becomes self-sustaining.
In his column on 23
October, Krugman criticised the British budget, which was presented
last week, for its massive cut in government spending (and the loss
of 490,000 government staff) and for following the austerity fad. He
predicted that the premature fiscal austerity will lead to a renewed
economic slump in
The G20 communique
pledged to continue with appropriate monetary policy to achieve price
However, this pledge
papers over the recent sharp criticisms of the US Federal Reserve for
its intention to undertake “quantitative easing” (or pumping large
amounts of funds into the banking system). This attack has come not
The communique commits the Ministers to “move towards more market determined exchange rate systems that reflect underlying economic fundamentals and refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies.”
This will be a welcomed part of the communique, as there has been growing and serious concerns that some of the G20 countries have been engaging in a “currency war.”
At the G20 meeting,
many officials expressed concern to the
Meanwhile, several developing countries are countering excessive capital inflows (and pressures for currency appreciation) either by intervention in the currency market, or by capital controls such as taxes on certain types of foreign capital entering the countries. The governments concerned have a good case when they argue that these measures are needed to protect their countries from the damaging effects of speculative capital inflows, and that they are not manipulating their currencies.
The communique also states that “advanced economies, including those with reserve currencies, will be vigilant against excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates. These actions will help mitigate the risk of excessive volatility in capital flows facing some emerging countries.”
This is also a welcome
statement. However, it remains to be seen whether the developed countries,
The Ministers also committed to pursue policies to “reduce excessive imbalances and maintaining current account imbalances at sustainable levels.” They add that “persistently large imbalances, assessed against indicative guidelines to be agreed, would warrant an assessment of their nature and the root causes of impediments to adjustment.”
This complex paragraph reflects a watered down proposal by the United States which reportedly called for the G20 countries to keep their current account balance (whether a surplus or a deficit) to below 4 per cent of gross domestic product.
The current account balance is a combined measure of the balances (exports minus imports) of a country's trade in goods, trade in services, flows of income and transfer payments such as migrant workers' remittances.
said that “setting specific numerical targets would have been easily counterproductive.”
The US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner however called the language in the communique a step forward, saying “the most important achieved is agreement on a framework for curbing excess trade imbalances in the future.”
The G20 communique also announced a decision to increase the share of developing countries in the IMF's quota (and thus voting power) by more than 6 percentage points by 2012.