Thursday, March 12, 2009

Australia - "IMF at risk of losing relevance"

Australia's confidential briefing papers prepared for the weekend's G-20 fiance leaders meeting have leaked.

This morning's
Age has the details.

"Decisive action is needed to ensure adequate and speedy resourcing of the IMF. Now is not the time for protracted debates or further studies — something that has been a feature of IMF reform to date."

Australia will be saying what it should.

Below is my take on the IMF for this morning's Age and also it's "great recession" pronouncement:

"If the IMF did not exist, we would not re-invent it"

Australia's Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was diplomatic when asked about the International Monetary Fund at the National Press Club yesterday - "it has to make calls, it has to make predictions; that’s fair enough" - but he was glowing when asked about about the Group of 20.

The G-20 is a new organisation. Australia's Prime Minister infamously lobbied the then US President George Bush to let it handle the developing economic crisis in a late night phone call late last year.

Made up of the world's 20 largest national economies plus the European Union it actually includes Australia. Big enough to account for 85 per cent of the world's production, it is small enough for members to make decisions that might actually stick...

As Mr Tanner put it: "It’s got pretty well all the really major players in the world’s economy represented there, and a number of others who are middling players such as ourselves. That’s extremely important for Australia. Really really important."

"What’s also important is that, if there’s going to be a grouping that’s small enough to be manageable and capable of producing an outcome – particularly on an issue of this magnitude – but is also big enough and representative enough to genuinely reflect the bulk of world, the G20 is going to be it."

By contrast the 185-member IMF not only has difficulty making decisions, it also has difficulty holding its members to those decisions, unless they owe it money.

Votes are weighted by a complex formula that gives China, one of the world's biggest economies the same number of votes as Canada. The United States has a veto. Its decisions are not taken seriously, although its money is.

A lender of last resort to nations that are skint, it imposes conditions in return for help that are at times dangerous.

During the 1997 Asian economic crisis it sought to impose conditions on Indonesia that Australia would have been unable to meet. Its requirement that wounded countries wind back public spending is said to have resulted in thousands of deaths from tuberculosis in Eastern Europe. Its insistance that those nations privatise their banks now looks like a joke in the light of the nationalisations being contemplated in the United States and United Kingdom.

Perhaps worst of all, previously economically weak nations have been building up big foreign surpluses in order to ensure they never have to deal with it again, adding to the globe's woes.

Its strengths are meant to include statistics and forecasting, but in April 2007, months ahead of the global economic crisis it declared the world "set for continued robust growth".

"Overall risks seem less threatening than six months ago," it opined.

Martin Wolf of the London Financial Times wrote recently that "if the International Monetary Fund did not exist, we would not re-invent it".

Australia might agree.

"The great recession" - another IMF downgrade

The International Monetary Fund now expects world growth to slip below zero and has labeled the crisis "the great recession".

In an unexpected development given the Fund's latest official forecast of positive growth of 0.5 per cent, its Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a conference in Tanzania that he "expects global growth to slow below zero this year, the worst performance in most of our lifetimes".

"The global financial crisis, what we might call the Great Recession, provides a sobering backdrop," he told the conference on African growth.

The Fund's official + 0.5 per cent forecast prepared in January sharply downgrades its November forecast of + 2.2 per cent and its October forecast of 3.0 per cent.

The IMF is expected to put a figure on its new forecast of negative growth in time for the Group of 20 Finance Ministers Meeting to be attended by Australia's Treasurer Wayne Swan in London on Saturday.

Earlier this week the World Bank became the first official organisation to break the taboo on forecasting negative growth, predicting the global economy would shrink this year for the first time in more than 60 years.

It is also is expected to put a figure on the negative growth it expects in the lead-up to the weekend meeting, giving the ministers numbers to grapple with as they thrash out plans for a coordinated response ahead of a leaders meeting to be attended Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the UK's Gordon Brown, the President Obama of the United States on April 2.