© Simone D. McCourtie | The World Bank - Photo: 2012

Anxiety Persists As IMF-World Bank Meet Ends

By Martin Khor*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GENEVA (IDN) – There were sobering messages on global economic prospects emerging from the 2012 meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund on October 14 in Tokyo.

Developing countries’ Finance Ministers and Central Bank officials voiced their concerns on the failure of developed countries to deal with their economic situation and on the policy and political paralysis preventing solutions.

At the IMF’s International Monetary and Financial Committee on October 13, some of them voiced concerns on the spillover effects of policies adopted by some developed countries, particularly their provision of huge volumes of credit, the continuing European debt crisis, and the looming threat of the United States’ “fiscal cliff”.

According to a report by Associated Press, China’s Central Bank deputy governor said at the meeting that “a durable solution to the Euro area crisis would provide a much-needed boost to global recovery” and that uncertainty over government debts in the United States and Japan was slowing recovery and causing “costly spillover effects to the rest of the world.”

Guido Mantega, Brazil’s Finance Minister, told the committee: “Advanced countries should rethink their macroeconomic strategies and avoid simultaneous fiscal contractions and the consequent overburdening of monetary policies. . . .  In many advanced countries, fiscal and structural policies are hampered by political paralysis.”

He also expressed concern over monetary easing in the United States and other countries meant to encourage more bank lending, but that some worry could destabilise markets while failing to stave off recession.

South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin J. Gordhan said: “We should all be committed in our resolve to avoid a worst-case scenario where strains in the euro area deepen, fiscal cliff and debt ceiling problems in the United States are not resolved, and growth in emerging market economies continues to decline.”

Shadow of expectations

The IMF-World Bank meetings were held in the shadow of expectations of deterioration in the global economic condition. The IMF cut its growth projections for most major countries and said the “risks of a serious global slowdown are alarmingly high” in its World Economic Outlook released on the eve of the Tokyo meetings.

Global growth slowed from 5.1% in 2010 to 3.8% in 2011. For this year, the latest IMF estimate is 3.3% global growth, with developed countries barely growing by 1.3% while developing countries expand by 5.3%.

This 2012 forecast is optimistic as it assumes the United States and Europe will resolve their problems in economic policymaking.

The IMF posed the key issue of whether the global economy is merely facing just another temporary bout of turbulence, or whether the slowdown will endure. It said the answer depends on whether the United States and Europe can deal with their short-term challenges.

That is putting the issue blandly. The truth is that it is more difficult today to get recovery going than it was in 2009 in the aftermath of the financial meltdown.

At that time, there was a consensus among the major countries that their collapsing economies had to be boosted through fiscal stimulus, low interest rates and a massive supply of credit. The coordinated actions led to the swift and sharp recovery of 2010.

The policy winds have changed in the past two years. Most developed countries are now more concerned about cutting their budget deficits, and have thus reversed their fiscal policy from stimulus to austerity.

Countries in the Eurozone that are heavily dependent on foreign loans, and do not have the options of printing money or currency depreciation because they have the common currency, have little choice but to cut their public spending.

But even the United Kingdom which enjoys much more policy space, chose drastic budget cuts that have now resulted in a recession.

Wisdom of demanding extreme austerity

During the meetings, the raging debate on the wisdom of demanding extreme austerity targets for Greece and potentially other countries like Portugal and Spain in exchange for loans broke out in an open clash.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said Greece should be given two additional years to meet the drastic budget reduction targets that had been imposed by its creditors (the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF itself). But the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble strongly rebuked her, indicating Germany’s insistence on Greece fulfilling the targets on time as a condition for further loans.

Meanwhile, Greece is reeling from the spending cuts already made, with GNP falling by 6% and unemployment shooting above 25%. The public mood has reached boiling point, as evident from angry protests during German leader Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens on October 9.

Europe will remain the epicentre of the global slowdown, with its economy in recession this year and possibly next, even though its crisis has eased with the European Central Bank’s intention to buy government bonds of cash-strapped countries. Since the countries have to adhere to strict austerity and other targets as conditions, Europe’s economy will face contraction.

The United States by contrast has done better with growth of 1.8% in 2011 and a projected 2.2% this year, but unemployment remains.

“Fiscal cliff”

However, it faces the “fiscal cliff” problem at the end of the year. If the Republicans and Democrats are unable to overcome their differences and arrive at a new budget deal, the package of tax and spending cuts mandated by law will kick in by January next year, and these measures are equivalent to reducing national income by 4%. The implications for the global economy are enormous.

The major developing countries are also slowing down significantly. The latest IMF forecast is of GNP growth in 2012 for China of 7.8% (from 10.4% in 2010), India 4.9% (10.1% in 2010) and Brazil 1.5% (7.5% in 2010).

The developing countries have especially been affected by the sharp decline of exports to Europe.

Thus, the three main concerns about the current global economy are the continuing financial crisis and a severe austerity response in Europe, the confrontational politics and probably greater austerity measures in the United States, and the cooling of the major developing countries’ economies.

Another setback was the missing of the deadline to resolve the issue of altering the quotas of the IMF with the aim of providing developing countries with a higher overall share, to improve their say over the policies of the institution. The Tokyo meeting was supposed to settle the question but was unable to come to a decision.

The missing of the deadline was criticised by the G24 developing country grouping. In a communique issued by the G24 after its Ministerial meeting in Tokyo on October 11 (chaired by the Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram) the Ministers stated: “We note with concern that the 2010 IMF quota and governance reforms did not achieve the required voting power majority for approval by the deadline set of the annual meetings of October 2012. This can result in serious reputational risk for the Fund.”

*Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. This article first appeared in the South News and is being re-published by arrangement with the South Centre. [IDN-InDepthNews – October 15, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Martin Khor’s previous articles in IDN:

Photo: © Simone D. McCourtie | The World Bank

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