In These New Times

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Bargaining fails to break deadlock over IMF

Posted by smeddum on April 27, 2009


April 27, 2009

Cracks have opened up in the united front maintained by the leading world economies in trying to combat the global recession.

Tensions flared at talks between finance ministers over how to carry through key elements of the pact sealed at this month’s London summit of the Group of 20 nations.

Despite intense bargaining throughout the weekend, ministers gathered in Washington failed to agree on how to raise the full $500 billion (£340 billion) in extra funding for the International Monetary Fund pledged by the G20 three weeks ago.

The IMF’s ruling International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) trumpeted as a “key achievement” success in securing $250 billion to double the fund’s available finance for crisis loans.

But while more than $300 billion of the $500 billion target sum has now been pledged, countries were still at odds over who should provide the remaining money promised by the G20, and by what means.

A split also erupted between the United States and Europe over a call by Washington for a far-reaching shake-up of the IMF that would give a much bigger say in its operations to emerging market countries, led by China, at the expense of Europe.

There were more divisions, too, over the pace at which extraordinary fiscal and monetary measures to fight the world slump should start to be unwound once recovery takes hold.

The most serious differences came over the urgent efforts to raise the extra funding for the IMF. The US continued to lead attempts to persuade more countries to make one-off crisis contributions to the fund’s coffers or boost their existing commitments.

Talks were under way to expand the select group of countries that can be called on to provide extra money to the IMF under its so-called “new arrangements to borrow”. But the weekend meeting ended without a deal.

China, Brazil and India led developing nations in forcing through measures under which the IMF will sell bonds on world markets to raise additional funding as an alternative to some countries offering it longer-term loans. Along with other emerging market nations, China is reluctant to make bigger financial commitments to the IMF without being allowed a much greater part in decision-making at the fund and its sister body the World Bank. The emerging powers argue that they are under-represented in the two organisations under “quotas” that set their voting power as well as how much they pay in, and are demanding more say in return for any extra cash.

With Washington keen to spread the burden of financing the IMF, Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, issued a strong call at the weekend for a reordering of power in the fund. “This is essential for strengthening the IMF’s legitimacy, ensuring that it remains at the centre of the international monetary system,” Mr Geithner said. “Much bolder action is required to realign quotas towards dynamic emerging-market economies.”

Guido Mantega, the Brazilian Finance Minister, underlined the pressure for change. “The IMF has repented from many of its past sins, but it still has to address the original sin — its democratic deficit,” he said.

European countries that would have to sacrifice voting power to make way for emerging powers signalled their opposition to rapid change. “For the moment the representation around the table is attractive,” Didier Reynders, the Belgian Finance Minister, said. “European countries are having to finance the fund very strongly.”

Mr Geithner suggested cutting the size of the IMF board to 22, from the present 24, by 2010 and to 20 by 2012, while preserving the existing number of seats for emerging market and developing nations. A 20-member IMF board would have global legitimacy, having been internationally agreed, and could be made to line up with membership of the G20, which, while powerful, lacks formal legitimacy.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF’s managing director, said, meanwhile, that other divisions had surfaced between countries over how quickly government borrowing and ultra-low interest rates to boost economies should be returned to more normal levels as the crisis abated. “At some point, we need to prepare the exit strategy from the stimulus process,” he said.

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