Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What was discussed at the IMF annual meetings

The annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund wrapped up today. The major topic of conversation was expanding the say of poorer nations in the institution, and perhaps expanding it's role in the world's economy to prevent future crises.

From the Washington Post, writer Anthony Faiola summarizes the two divisive issues.

At a major summit in Pittsburgh last month, leaders from the Group of 20 major economies, including President Obama, reiterated calls for an enhanced global role for the IMF. One fundamental change would be in the ranks of nations that call the shots there.

Founded in the wake of World War II, the IMF has served as a lender of last resort to countries in financial crisis -- most often developing nations -- through rescue packages that often came with strict demands for fiscal restraint and free-market reforms. The United States, Europe and Japan -- the major contributors to the IMF -- have held the most sway over those decisions, including which countries received money, how much and with what kind of strings attached.

Although the IMF has begun easing its lending restrictions and conditions to cope with the global economic crisis, the "new fund" would give emerging economies more long-term say over the IMF's policies and lending practices. It would do that by redistributing voting rights within the fund, giving a roughly 50-50 split to the developing and developed worlds.

Yet who gains, and who loses, is in hot contention. Those set to suffer most are smaller European nations -- such as Belgium -- which hold about as much voting rights within the IMF as China. But even larger powers, such as Britain, voiced a measure of alarm this week at the notion of their clout being diluted, while China and others fiercely argued that they should be awarded even more power.

Just as divisive is how to recraft the IMF's mission in the wake of the crisis.

Over the past two years, the IMF has been the center of the effort to more closely monitor economies around the world to prevent a repeat of the current crisis that started in the United States. To beef up the fund's ability to cope with meltdowns from Eastern Europe to Africa, leading nations have committed hundreds of billions of dollars to the fund's war chest in recent months. Diplomats, however, agreed in Istanbul to study whether the IMF should now be armed with far more, perhaps even allowing it to serve as a depository for world reserves.

Such changes, however, would take years to unfold. What could come more quickly, though, is a heightened mandate for the fund as a global monitor of economic policies both in the developed and developing worlds.

It has been key to coordinating national efforts thus far to combat the crisis, coming up, for instance, with targets for fiscal stimulus spending. This week, world financial chiefs asked the IMF to draft new guidelines for an "orderly and cooperative exit" from that spending when the time is right. The fund is also being asked to study offering more bank-like services to well-run developing nations, perhaps allowing them to pay a fee for the right to access quick and easy loans.

Yet many nations, including the United States, remain cautious of vesting too much power with the fund, and few in Istanbul this week were talking about granting it any powers to enforce its decisions.

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