Today's US G-20 Gimmick: Geithner on CA Limits

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/22/2010 07:42:00 PM
Here's more from the white man & forked tongue department: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Yanks are first out of the chute prior to this weekend's G-20 gathering in South Korea with yet another plan to get its way. Instead of focusing on undervalued currencies--which it in any case is wont to let go of as you'll soon see in the second paragraph below--their latest tack is calling for limits on the external imbalances participating states can run (got that, China?) There's also a continuation here of the longstanding call to use the IMF as a tool to beat other countries into submission via enhanced surveillance that, surprise, developing countries are not particularly keen on. Aside from having limited participation because of limited IMF reform of voting rights, where's the joy in giving the America a multilateral stick to bash your head with over "currency manipulation"?

At any rate, here is the text of the letter Geithner sent to other G20 member economies in its entirety since it's relatively brief:
First, G20 countries should commit to undertake policies consistent with reducing external imbalances below a specified share of GDP over the next few years, recognizing that some exceptions may be required for countries that are structurally large exporters of raw materials. This means that G20 countries running persistent deficits should boost national savings by adopting credible medium-term fiscal targets consistent with sustainable debt levels and by strengthening export performance. Conversely, G20 countries with persistent surpluses should undertake structural, fiscal and exchange rate policies to boost domestic sources of growth and support global demand. Since our current account balances depend on our own policy choices as well as on the policies pursued by other G20 countries, these commitments require a cooperative effort.

Second, to facilitate the orderly rebalancing of global demand, G20 countries should commit to refrain from exchange rate policies designed to achieve competitive advantage by either weakening their currency or preventing the appreciation of an undervalued currency. G20 emerging market countries with significantly undervalued currencies and adequate precautionary reserves need to allow their exchange rates to adjust fully over time to levels consistent with economic fundamentals. G20 advanced countries will work to ensure against excessive volatility and disorderly movement in exchange rates. Together these actions should reduce the risk of excessive volatility in capital flows for emerging economies that have flexible exchange rates.

Third, the G20 should call on the IMF to assume a special role in monitoring progress on our commitments. The IMF should publish a semiannual report assessing G20 countries progress toward the agreed objectives on external sustainability and the consistency of countries' exchange rate, capital account, structural, and fiscal policies toward meeting those objectives.

With progress on these fronts, we should reach final agreement in an ambitious package of reforms to strengthen the IMF's financial resources and its financial tools, and to reform the governance structure to increase the voice and representation of dynamic emerging economies.
I obviously don't think this will work. I needn't go into why the US is the biggest currency manipulator of them all since no one else in the G-20 is running a fiscal deficit as big as America, clogging its central bank's balance sheet with junk assets with similar gusto, or has interest rate targets in a range including zero. As for using the IMF to police currency manipulation and other dastardly deeds, forget it. Even LDCs competing with China in export markets will not agree to equipping the IMF with powers to do America's dirty work for it.

Apparently, this characteristic Yankee double talk is not being received very well by most of the others:
Group of 20 finance chiefs conclude talks today with the U.S. running into resistance as it pushes targets for current account imbalances as a new way of prodding China and other Asian nations to let their currencies rise...

“Setting numerical targets would be unrealistic,” said Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, while German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle rejected a “command economy” approach. Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said caps would be hard to quantify. In interviews with Bloomberg Television, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the idea was a “step in the right direction” and Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan called it “constructive.”

By turning the focus to current accounts away from currencies, Geithner is hoping China will be more agreeable to accelerating the yuan’s appreciation after limiting its gain to about 2 percent against the dollar since June... The U.S. recommended deficits or surpluses of no more than 4 percent of gross domestic product, Noda said. The International Monetary Fund this month estimated China’s surplus will swell to 7.8 percent of GDP in 2015 from 4.7 percent this year. A current account is the broadest measure of trade because it includes investment and transfer income and it would be hard to achieve any correction in one without a currency shifting...

The G-20 officials are trying to end what Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega calls a “currency war” as next month’s Seoul summit of leaders nears. China’s restraining of the yuan even as it runs a trade surplus and builds currency reserves has been attacked for distorting markets as has the recent slide of the dollar as the Federal Reserve shifts toward easier monetary policy.

Nations caught in the middle such as Brazil and South Korea are embracing capital controls or intervening themselves to stay competitive with China and limit inflows of speculative cash from North America and Europe. This has raised concern from policy makers and investors that the friction will spark a round of devaluations and retaliatory protectionism, derailing an already fragile global economic recovery.

“If we fail to reach an agreement now and delay it to next time, the global economy will face a serious risk and it will unnerve people,” South Korean President Lee Myung Bak told the meeting. The G-20 has long sought ways to rebalance the world economy away from its reliance on excess U.S. demand and Chinese savings. Limiting those talks to foreign exchange is too inflexible for nations with trade surpluses, a South Korean official said. Looking at the current account allows countries to decide on which tools to adopt to reduce imbalances, including currency changes, he said...

The G-20 policy makers are also debating whether to make their first joint comment on currencies since their leaders began meeting in 2008, having previously resisted remarks for fear of alienating China. A draft statement included a pledge to avoid “competitive undervaluation” of exchange rates. The final text is scheduled for release at about 5 p.m. local time.
It should be interesting at least. As the World Bank has noted, the trail of international currency war begins with the United States. To stop the rot, the world needs to clamp down more on America than America needs to clamp down on the world.