Saturday, April 25, 2009

U.S. backs more say for emerging nations

The United States pledged robust support Saturday for an overhaul of governing power within the International Monetary Fund so key emerging-market nations get more say in how the lender operates.

In a speech to the IMF's steering committee, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also called on the fund to be prepared to offer loans to recapitalize banks or to aid developing countries in rolling over corporate debt.

Geithner's proposals, delivered in a strongly worded address at the IMF's semiannual meeting, are likely to provoke some controversy among the other industralized countries who, with the United States, have long dominated the global lender.

He said, however, it was necessary to retool the IMF to reflect a shift in global economic reality.

"This is essential to strengthening the IMF's legitimacy, ensuring that it remains at the center of the international monetary system and reflects the realities of the 21st century," Geithner said.

Washington's commitment to reform carries special weight because it is the biggest single shareholder within the IMF.

Geithner urged acceleration of a slow-moving bid to realign voting shares, known as quotas, that determine power within the IMF and said fewer members were needed on its governing board.

"Much bolder action is required to realign quotas toward dynamic emerging-market economies, and the next general quota review is an opportunity that must be seized," Geithner said in a strongly worded address at the IMF's semiannual meeting. "Minor adjustments around the edges are inadequate to an IMF for the 21st century."
0:00 /1:32China's economy slows down

Geithner mentioned no countries by name, but China is regularly cited as among countries that qualify for more IMF voting power, especially at a time when the old-line U.S. and European powers that have dominated the lender are trying to get Beijing to put more money into the fund.

With much of the global economy in recession, and emerging markets under severe pressure as their export opportunities dry up, international financial institutions such a the IMF and World Bank have been facing an increase in demands for loans.

Geithner suggested reducing the size of the IMF's board to 22 chairs from 24 by 2010 and to 20 chairs by 2012, but preserving the existing number of chairs for emerging-market and developing countries while doing so.

While this weekend's meetings are in progress, intense behind-the-scenes bargaining is under way to meet a commitment set at a London meeting of political leaders from the Group of 20 developed and emerging nations to raise $500 billion in fresh funds for the IMF.

Well over $300 billion is already pledged but the United States and others are trying to enlist more countries either to become contributors or boost their existing commitments.

"In implementing reforms to the IMF, I pledge my country's support," Geithner said, adding that consultations were under way with the U.S. Congress over more money for the IMF.

It is not clear whether some U.S. lawmakers will try to hold up more financing for the global lender but in the past, many have been skeptical about the value of the institution's work.

While offering to make room for emerging-market countries, Geithner said the IMF needs to step up more forcefully to make the case that countries that have relied on exports to fuel growth need to become stronger consumers to help rebalance an uneven global economy.

He said it was vital for the IMF to "exercise greater candor and clarity on exchange rate issues" and to carry out its functions in monitoring and reporting on member countries' currency practices. Many economists say China has kept its currency, the yuan, undervalued to help protect its export industries.

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