World leaders are bound to express
the hope that the worst of the global economic crisis is passing
when they meet this week, but they are under pressure, too, to
manage a Chinese challenge to decades of dollar supremacy.|
Beijing, which has floated the idea of an alternative to the
dollar as world reserve currency one day, wants a debate on the
matter -- sensitive in financial markets that are wary of risks
to U.S. asset values -- at a July 8-10 summit in Italy,
With so much of its reserves invested in U.S. assets,
BeiJing needs to ensure that its longer-term goals do not spook
markets in the short term and hit the dollar's value -- a point
Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei made in Rome on Sunday.
"The U.S. dollar is still the most important and major
reserve currency of the day, and we believe that that situation
will continue for many years to come," He said.
Leaders from the Western economic powers and Russia meet in
Italy on Wednesday and are joined the day after by leaders from
China, India, Brazil and others to discuss global challenges --
chief among them the worst recession in living memory.
(Click for agenda on [ID:nLU637990] all items [ID:nL2198823])
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says not to expect any grand
initiatives in Italy on the economy, largely because governments
are already pumping trillions of dollars into bank stabilisation
and economic stimulus, and also because they have their eyes on
a bigger G20 summit in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh in September.
The best the Italians can expect from the meetings in the
quake-hit town of L'Aquila, economists say, are statements that
commit the old and new economic powers to keep working together
to contain the crisis and, once that is done, envisage new rules
for a better regulated global economy.
Carl Weinberg of High Frequency Economics in New York says
genuine coordination beyond carefully negotiated communiques is
hard to have when governments are spending so much money to tend
to their own voters and industries right now.
"In a time when fiscal budgets are stretched and deficits
are reaching historic proportions, few governments will be able
to find the cash to support foreigners' standards of living.
Resources are need to buy jobs at home," he said.
Summit host Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, may
find it easy enough to broker what the leaders can say about the
state of the economy right now, namely that the situation may be
stabilising but the world is far from out of the woods.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
raised its economic forecasts on June 24 for the first time in
two years, predicting 4.1 percent GDP contraction in the 30
mostly industrialised countries of the OECD as a whole rather
than the 4.3 percent previously envisaged. It forecast a minor
0.7 percent rise in GDP next year instead of a further dip.
The tension may rise in L'Aquila though, if, as sources say,
Germany's Merkel presses others to say in very explicit terms
that they are committed to reverse quickly out of all the heavy
spending and debts they have run up once the recovery starts.
Budget deficits are forecast to rise six-fold in the OECD
group of countries by 2010, from 2007 levels, to 8.8 percent of
GDP from 1.4 percent, the OECD's latest forecasts show.
Washington, London, Paris and Japan, to name just some, do
not want to commit so hard and fast to such an "exit strategy",
even if they agree to the principle. According to information
gleaned from sources, Germany will push the issue but face stiff
resistance to anything beyond vague commitment.
Japanese officials cited the OECD's latest commentary as a
pointer to the potential tenor of the statements that would be
issued by G8 leaders. The OECD says fiscal stimulus should not
be withdrawn at a pace that jeopardises recovery.
The most delicate issue leaders will face in economic terms
is probably China's push for consideration of alternatives to
the dollar as the world's reserve currency. The dollar lost a
cent versus the euro at one stage last week when Reuters
reported sources as saying Beijing wanted the matter debated.
One official, speaking anonymously, said China might push
for metion on the matter in published statements from Italy.
Other sources involved in preparation of the meetings said
Brazil and India backed Beijing's call for debate but there was
consensus among the G8 countries, at least, that nothing of
significance could or should materialise at this stage.
If China insisted on something being put into a statement,
it would surely be with references worded obscurely enough to be
"meaningless", one official who spoke to Reuters said.
"In the midst of what is still a significant global
recession, it's important that we aim for stability, and
stability has been based on the U.S. dollar as the global
currency," Canada Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Friday.
Beijing, equally, has reason to move carefully, even if Zhou
Xiaochuan, head of the Chinese central bank, launched the debate
last March when he said the SDR, the International Monetary
Fund's unit of account, might one day displace the dollar.
Some diplomats and bankers suggest Zhou's primary aim was to
highlight attention on concern expressed by Premier Wen Jiabao
about the safety of China's huge dollar holdings -- at risk if
U.S. policy turns to greater tolerance of inflation.
Bankers reckon China holds perhaps 70 percent of its $1.95
trillion in official currency reserves in the dollar.
In his Rome briefing, Chinese deputy foreign minister He
said it was "natural" to want to ensure the safety of Chinese
dollar investments but he appeared keen to convey that the
long-term debate on reserve currencies was just that.
"You may have heard comments, opinions from academic circles
about the idea of establishing a super sovereign currency. This
is all, I believe, now a discussion among academics. It is not
the position of the Chinese government."
As for the outcome of the Italy meetings, Marco Annunziata,
economist at UniCredit bank, said Beijing may want the issue
discussed with other leaders but would not push too hard.
"FX markets will of course wonder till the last minute
whether the BRICs or China alone will mount a serious challenge
to the dollar, but are bound to be disappointed," he said.
In L'Aquila, Italy is also pressing leaders to back a global
charter for business and finance, a sprawling compendium of best
practices in labour, taxation, investment and myriad other
domains where international organisations have produced
thousands of mostly voluntary guidelines over the decades.
Germany's Merkel wants something of the same sort but it is
far from clear, officials say, that the gathering will reach
anything amounting to a definitive decision on the charter the
Italians calls the Lecce Framework.
(With reporting by Reuters reporters worldwide)