Economic policy makers conclude Washington meetings

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Robert Zoellick, World Bank
Image: USTR.

This weekend, April 12–13, the joint Development Committee of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) held its annual Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The Group of Seven (G7), which is comprised of the economic policy makers from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan, held its annual meeting on Friday, April 11. This meeting, which rotates locations, was also held in Washington, D.C.

The Development Committee meeting ended on Sunday, with a call from the economic leaders for assistance to the countries which been adversely affected by rising food prices. Economic growth has slowed to its lowest rate in five years, while the rising costs of food and energy have not slowed.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF
Image: Guillaume Paumier.

Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, said, "We have to put our money where our mouth is. Now. So that we can put food into hungry mouths. It's as stark as that." He called for US$500 million in emergency funds for the United Nations's World Food Programme by May 1, 2008.

"All that has been done [in the past decade] can be undone very rapidly by the crisis coming from the increase in food prices," said Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the IMF.

"Children will be suffering from malnutrition, with consequences for all their lives," he said. He cited the growing use of land for biofuels as contributing to rising food costs. In the end growing violence and civil unrest could be a result.

Strauss-Kahn further warned that eventually it could become "not only a humanitarian question," but could also affect developed nations by leading to trade imbalances.

Specifically cited as a current example, was Haiti, where just this weekend, violence escalated resulting in the death of a United Nations peacekeeper and the ousting of Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis.

Henry Paulson, US Treasury
Image: US Treasury.

United States Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson cautioned that affected countries "need to resist the temptation of price controls and consumption subsidies that are generally not effective and efficient methods of protecting vulnerable groups."

Cquote1.svg We have to put our money where our mouth is. Now. So that we can put food into hungry mouths. It's as stark as that. Cquote2.svg

—Robert Zoellick, World Bank president

Price controls and subsidies "tend to create fiscal burdens and economic distortions while often providing aid to higher-income consumers or commercial interests other than the intended beneficiaries," Paulson said.

In their Friday statement, the G7 said "there have been at times sharp fluctuations in major currencies, and we are concerned about their possible implications for economic and financial stability." This marked the first time since the February 2004 meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, that the wording on foreign exchange has been altered.

The G7 presented a plan to strengthen regulation of capital markets. They urged financial firms to "fully" disclose their at-risk investments and improve capital reserves. While the G7 did not outline new monetary or fiscal policies, it did promise action "as appropriate." The timetable for the plan is 100 days.

Cquote1.svg While action is unlikely in the short run, they are probably already considering a pre-emptive move in foreign exchange markets to slow the dollar's decline. Cquote2.svg

—Lena Komileva, Tullett Prebon

The head of G7 Market Economics at Tullett Prebon, Lena Komileva, observed, "The implicit message is that the G7 is moving closer towards concerted action in the event that persistent volatility in the foreign exchange market presents new risk of systemic failure in the financial industry."

"While action is unlikely in the short run, they are probably already considering a pre-emptive move in foreign exchange markets to slow the dollar's decline," added Komileva.

Economists at Goldman Sachs told their clients, "After a period where the possibility of G7 policy intervention seemed very remote, providing no counterweight to the dollar depreciation forces, we are moving towards a regime where G7 intervention is a more real possibility."


Sources

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