April 19, 2013

Nations urged to pursue growth

The International Monetary Fund chief says deficit cutting is holding economies back.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The head of the International Monetary Fund says the United States, Europe, Japan and China all need to make adjustments to their current economic policies in order to boost a still-struggling global economy.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde says the United States and many countries in Europe need to focus more on growth and less on trimming budget balances this year. She said there was a critical need for policies focused on spurring jobs. Lagarde told a news conference Thursday that "we need growth, first and foremost."

Lagarde spoke to reporters to preview upcoming discussions among finance ministers and central bank governors of the world's 20 major economies plus the spring meetings of the 188-nation IMF and its sister lending institution, the World Bank.

Earlier this week, the IMF lowered its outlook for the world economy this year, predicting that government spending cuts would slow U.S. growth and keep the 17-nation area that uses the euro currency in recession.

Officials of the Group of 20, which includes Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, were scheduled to begin their discussions Thursday night and wrap up Friday with the issuance of a joint communique. The G-20 is composed of the world's major developed countries such as the United States, Japan and Germany and fast-growing developing nations including China, Brazil and India.

That joint statement was expected to repeat a pledge the group made at their last meeting in February that they would avoid using competitive currency devaluations to gain advantages in trade.

Lew, previewing the U.S. objectives going into the meetings, said that he would press Europe to do more to support growth and would maintain pressure on Japan and China to avoid lowering the value of their currencies to boost their exports at the expense of the United States and other countries.

Lew said it was important that G-20 nations "avoid a downward spiral of 'beggar thy neighbor' policies," the type of destructive trade competition that worsened the Great Depression in the 1930s.

In her comments, Lagarde talked about the dangers of overemphasizing deficit reduction with growth still fragile. She said the United States had avoided the "fiscal cliff" of across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts at the beginning of this year that could have derailed the U.S. economy but had made a policy error by allowing $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to take effect on March 1.

Lagarde said the United States needed to pursue "better quality" deficit reductions with less impact coming in the near-term.

She said that a priority for Europe was "to fix its frayed banking system" and also where needed to moderate its austerity programs. Lagarde noted that Spain was struggling with high unemployment and therefore the country needed more time before pursuing aggressive deficit reduction.

The IMF's economic report called on both the United States and Britain to scale back deficit cutting in the near-term. The austerity program launched by Britain in 2010 was designed to reduce high budget deficits through tax increases and spending cuts but ended up weakening Britain's recovery from the recession.

Lagarde was asked whether the IMF had given conflicting advice to countries such as Britain by first praising the austerity programs and then contending they were too stringent.

She said the IMF had always cautioned that if economic growth started to falter, then a country needed to moderate its deficit-cutting programs.

Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, an anti-poverty group, however, said that the IMF's reduced economic forecast demonstrated "a kind of schizophrenia at the IMF" in which growth has been hurt "due to the austerity policies the IMF previously promoted."

In Europe, countries are split over how much budget austerity to pursue, with some nations resisting Germany's push for emphasis on deficit reduction.

 

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