Key issues for the IMF/World Bank meeting

Washington: The International Monetary Fund and World Bank meet on Friday and Saturday, seeking consensus on how to speed up a slow-paced recovery and to shift more decision-making power to emerging nations.

Currency tensions arising from an uneven pattern of global growth will also be on the agenda.

Finance ministers from the Group of 20 emerging and developed countries and from the Group of Seven rich nations will hold separate meetings on the sidelines on Friday.

The semi-annual gathering is unlikely to reach any final agreements but following is a list of key issues that will be up for a thorough airing during the sessions.

Currency Exchange Rates

The drop in the US dollar, the related rise in many emerging market currencies and China`s reluctance to let its yuan float freely are expected to be focal points.

Emerging markets are worried their exports will lose competitiveness as their currencies rise, and the United States and other trading partners of China are showing increasing exasperation over the yuan`s slow rise.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned this week that when emerging powers like China maintain undervalued exchange rates "that encourages other countries to do the same."

China has resisted, with Premier Wen Jiabao claiming that a rapid exchange rate shift could trigger chaos in China. "It would be a disaster for the world," he said.

The tensions over currencies have led the IMF and World Bank to issue pleas for better policy coordination, and both institutions will seek to keep the tensions from creating crisis, while handing off any hard decisions to leaders of the Group of 20 who gather in South Korea next month.

Capital Flows

With official interest rates in many of the major economies at or near zero, investors are scouring everywhere for higher yields. In the process they are sending huge flows of capital into emerging markets like Brazil and South Korea.

The situation may worsen, with countries like the United States seen on the verge of more credit easing to try to spur a more vigorous, job-creating recovery. Countries like Brazil are responding with measures to curb capital inflows and prevent their currencies from rising.

Global institutions like the IMF and World Bank regularly inveigh against capital controls, both because they distort markets` operation and potentially are a tripwire for wider beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies that all want to avoid.

Global Rebalancing

The need for economic rebalancing -- getting nations with big deficits to save more and those with persistent surpluses to encourage more domestic consumption -- has become a mantra for policymakers trying to ensure a sustained global recovery.

But concern that the spirit of global cooperation evident during the 2007-2009 financial crisis is waning gives the call for rebalancing a special edge at these meetings. "I think it`s fair to say that momentum is not vanishing but decreasing and that`s a real threat," IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said.

Complicating matters is that the key mechanism for rebalancing circles back to the thorny issue of currency exchange rates. Normally countries with big surpluses see their currencies appreciate, which encourages consumption at home and makes their exports more costly abroad.

Geithner maintains that unless countries like China allow their currencies to rise, the efforts of others -- like the United States -- that are increasing their savings will be futile and the end result is that all will grow more slowly.

Shifting Power To Emerging Markets

There is general agreement that countries driving the global economy should have proportional representation in global councils like the IMF and World Bank -- but who among current members is willing to cede power?

China, Brazil and India are seen as deserving of more voting power in the IMF and the United States has maneuvered to try to shrink the number of seats on the IMF board from the existing 24 and, in the process, shift some power from Europe to emerging markets.

Europe is resistant.

Separately, the IMF`s 187 members are negotiating adjustments to give countries like China a larger voting share in the lender. Though the question of how to reapportion power now appears to be in deadlock and no resolution will occur this weekend, key participants still see a settlement as possible by the time the G20 leaders meet.

"I won`t say we`re close to an agreement but we`re not very far" apart, Strauss-Kahn said this week.

Bureau Report


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