G20 Agree to Monetary Fund Power Shift

Finance ministers agree to give emerging economies more power in the International Monetary Fund.

International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, American treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and French finance minister Christine Lagarde at IMF headquarters in Washington DC, April 23
International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, American treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and French finance minister Christine Lagarde at IMF headquarters in Washington DC, April 23 (IMF/Stephen Jaffe)

Finance ministers of the world’s developed economies agreed this weekend to extend leadership positions in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to rising powers as Brazil, China, India and Turkey. The European Union has agreed to surrender two of its seven executive directorships out of a total of 24.

The United States in particular has pushed Europe to give up several of its seats on the Executive Board of the Fund. The Americans hope that by granting representation to emerging economies, these will be more willing to address trade distortions.

China, which keeps its currency artificially undervalued in order to export more cheaply, is unlikely to change its monetary policy in spite of IMF reform. An American proposal to limit current account imbalances to 4 percent of national income failed to win support among a majority of finance minister and central bankers gathered in South Korea in anticipation of the G20 summit two weeks from now.

China and Germany, which have both profited from a recent surge in exports, actually criticized the United States for its own, loose monetary approach. The German economy ministers compared Washington’s “excessive, permanent increase in money” to “an indirect manipulation” of the dollar’s exchange rate. Developing countries worry that by flooding its domestic financial sector with cash, the Americans are pumping up their asset prices and exchange rate, effectively undermining the competitiveness of export industries on which these countries rely for growth in the process.

Despite these lingering disputes, the IMF deal may help to avoid a rapture between emerging and developed nations and recognizes that countries as Brazil, India and Turkey are now to be counted as global players. It also clears the way for G20 leaders meeting in Seoul later this month to discuss politically more difficult decisions on balancing world trade.