G20 pledges to hold back from currency warfare

Russian President Putin speaks to G20 states finance ministers in Kremlin, MoscowMoscow: G20 finance ministers on Saturday moved to calm fears of looming “economic warfare” on the currency markets, pledging they would not target specific forex rates or devalue currencies to make them more competitive.

The jitters — similar to previous disputes with China — have been set off by Japan’s plan of monetary easing to boost inflation and activity by reducing the value of the yen under new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“We will refrain from competitive devaluation. We will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes,” said the communique after the G20 finance meeting in Moscow under Russia’s presidency.

It echoed a similar recent statement by the G7 richest nations which like the G20 statement was also approved by Japan, whose monetary policy has been vehemently criticised by the West in recent weeks.

The G20 statement set a commitment to move “more rapidly toward more market-determined exchange rate systems and exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying fundamentals.”

Christine Lagarde in Kremlin, Moscow

Christine Lagarde during a meeting of G20 finance ministers in the Kremlin in Moscow on February 15, 2013
© AFP

Striving to give the impression of a united front among the world’s top 20 economies, the G20 ministers vowed to “work more closely with one another so we can grow together.

The statement on currencies differed from the G7 communique by aiming to move towards market-set forex rates, to take account of G20 member states like China which have a more managed economy. The G7, by contrast, had declared a simple commitment to “market-determined exchange rates”.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, who attended the meeting, described the statement as a “heartening” display of international cooperation.

“We think that talk of currency wars is overblown… The good news is that the G20 responded with cooperation rather than conflict today,” she said.

British Finance Minister George Osborne had earlier warned against “economic warfare” if states were to seek to outdo each other with competitive devaluations of currencies.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in a concluding news conference that “only the market determines the level of this or that currency”, while insisting that the G20 had a “uniform” opinion on the matter.

British Finance Minister George Osborne speaks with US Treasury Undersecretary Lael Brainard

British Finance Minister George Osborne speaks with US Treasury Undersecretary Lael Brainard on February 16, 2013
© AFP

A senior US administration official, who asked not to named, described the statement on exchange rates as a leap in the language for some G20 states and an evolution from previous positions.

For the first time in several international meetings, the concerns over currencies have overshadowed the economic troubles of the debt-ridden euro zone which leaders hope is heading to a gentle recovery.

All the G20 states are to a greater or lesser extent faced with the same dilemma — how to boost fragile growth rates without overextending budget deficits or alienating international partners.

The final communique — as expected — stopped short of giving precise budget deficit targets which many governments would have found too tough to stomach.

But it said that “credible medium-term fiscal consolidation plans will be put in place” taking into account the economic conditions and fiscal possibilities.

Earlier, Britain, France and Germany also launched a new drive to help national budgets by making big business pay full taxes and not minimise payments through schemes such as offshore companies.

The G20 ministers agreed to take measures to combat corporate tax avoidance in coordination with the Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) which is preparing an action plan on measures to be taken in a coordinated move by national governments.

“We are determined to develop measures to address base erosion and profit shifting, take the necessary collective action and look forward to the comprehensive action plan the OECD will present to us in July,” the final statement said.

Profit shifting is the practice of shifting profits from the company’s home country to pay less tax under another jurisdiction, meaning that top firms end up paying smaller taxes in tiny territories like the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

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