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1. The Interim Committee held its fifty-first meeting in Washington, D.C. on October 4, 1998 under the Chairmanship of Mr. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Minister of the Treasury of Italy. The Committee expressed its appreciation to the outgoing Chairman, Mr. Philippe Maystadt, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Foreign Trade of Belgium, for his invaluable contribution to the Committee’s work.
2. Developments in the World Economy
a. Problems and Challenges in the World Economy and International Capital Markets
The outlook for the world economy has worsened considerably since the Committee’s April meeting, with a scaling down of prospects for growth of output and trade. Recessions in Japan and several Asian emerging market economies have deepened; Russia’s financial crisis has contributed to a general retreat by investors from emerging markets; stock markets worldwide have declined significantly from their recent peaks; and commodity prices have weakened further. The downside risks to the current outlook have increased significantly. Many emerging market economies face a particularly difficult environment associated with reduced access to external financing and widening risk premia. These developments also pose difficulties for financial systems and an orderly process of economic adjustment and push back prospects for economic growth. Recent problems have been aggravated by a general weakening of market confidence, reflecting the greater prevalence and intensity of contagion in an increasingly globalized economy. These contagion effects were most evident in those countries with weak policies and inadequate institutions, but many countries with sound fundamentals have also not been spared.
The Committee also noted that there are some positive features that, if reinforced, can help carry forward the response to the crisis. First, there is continuing, generally solid, growth in the industrial countries of North America and Western Europe, amid low inflation and progress toward needed fiscal consolidation. Second, economic and monetary union in Europe, which is on the verge of being introduced, is already contributing to monetary stability. The Committee looks forward to a successful EMU, which contributes to growth and stability in the international monetary system. Third, there has been maintenance of growth in China and India, while progress in some of the Asian crisis countries toward financial stabilization and strengthened external positions has allowed the recent cautious easing of macroeconomic policies. Fourth, there has also been a considerable strengthening in recent years of economic fundamentals and underlying growth performance in several developing and transition countries, which has served to contain the crisis and limit the resort to market restrictions. Fifth, protectionist pressures have so far been kept in check.
The Committee considered at length the challenges facing the world economy. It is its unanimous view that forceful action is required on the part of member countries over a broad range of policies with the overriding aim of restoring market confidence and growth where needed.
b. Policy Responses to Recent Crises
In view of the seriousness of the present global situation, the Committee deemed it crucial that a strong co-operative effort be pursued by all countries and institutions to support those countries that have been most adversely affected by the recent developments and which are implementing strong economic adjustment programs. To contain the crisis, confidence-restoring policy measures are needed to address domestic and external sources of vulnerability; in particular forceful and timely actions have to be taken in countries with deep-seated weaknesses.
The Committee reviewed and endorsed the overall strategy adopted by the international community in dealing with the Asian crisis. It noted that stability in the affected countries’ currencies should, if maintained, allow for a further cautious easing of monetary policies. The Committee nonetheless remained concerned about the depth of the recession in many countries of Asia and its negative impact on the welfare of large sections of their population. It supported the scope provided for fiscal policy to alleviate pressures on the real economy and, in particular, to back countries’ social safety nets, and to absorb the costs of bank restructuring. In order to secure the recovery of these economies, the Committee considered it essential that they continue to address forcefully the structural weaknesses in their financial and corporate sectors that lie at the heart of the recent loss of confidence, and to develop effective mechanisms to facilitate debt workouts.
Regarding Russia’s financial crisis, the Committee encouraged the new government to take immediate measures to re-establish confidence in the ruble, restore the payments mechanism, and work with its creditors to develop a cooperative solution to Russia’s debts. It also emphasized the need for vigorous action to tackle the root causes of the crisis, especially the persistent fiscal imbalances and inadequacies in the taxation system and the banking sector, while strengthening the rule of law, market competition, the private enterprise sector, and also minimizing the social impact of the crisis. Members reaffirmed that the international community, including the international financial institutions, stands ready to support convincing and effective measures to stabilize and reform the Russian economy. The Fund should continue to fully support thosecountries most affected by the Russian crisis that are performing adequately under their adjustment programs.
As for other emerging market and developing economies, with capital markets highly sensitive to any sign of policy deficiencies, it is essential that they persevere with sound policies to reduce vulnerability to changes in investor sentiment. The Committee noted that many countries in Asia and in other regions are dealing effectively with the spillover effects from the crisis. It also welcomed the reaffirmation of China’s commitment not to devalue its currency, which has provided an important anchor to the region. In Latin America, while progress during the past decade in macroeconomic policies and structural reforms has enabled many countries to cope with the recent financial market turbulence, there still remains a strong need in some countries for fiscal consolidation and strengthening of financial systems.
The Committee stressed the importance of the role that the industrial countries have to play in sustaining global growth, containing deflationary risks, and creating environments conducive to a smooth resolution of financial crises. While noting the recent steps in this direction, the Committee considered it essential that Japan should take prompt and resolute action to strengthen its banking system and to provide sufficient and sustained stimulus to revive domestic demand and restore confidence until the recovery is well established. In most other industrial countries, growth is sufficiently robust for fiscal policy not to be diverted from medium-term objectives. In view of the favorable inflation and growth prospects in these countries and the seriousness of the global financial market crisis and its spillover effects, the Committee welcomed the recent interest rate cut in the United States as a useful step in this regard and the convergence of interest rates in the countries participating in the euro towards the lowest levels prevailing in the area. Should there be a worsening of the crisis or a further slowdown in economic activity, additional action on both domestic and international grounds would be required by both emerging market countries and industrial countries.
The Committee agreed to explore a strengthened capacity, based in the IMF and together with the general increase of IMF quotas and establishment of the New Arrangements to Borrow, to provide more effectively contingent finance to help countries pursuing sound policies to maintain stability in the face of difficult global financial conditions.
3. Strengthening the Architecture of the International Monetary System
The Committee welcomed the progress that has been made during the past six months in the work on aspects related to the strengthening of the architecture of the international monetary system. Recent crises have, however, exposed broader and deeper difficulties in the system, underscoring the need to widen the scope of recent work to encompass other crucial aspects with respect to the management and resolution of financial crises. These pertain, in particular, to mechanisms for the allocation of capital and for the management of risk, the regulation and supervision of financial sectors, and standards of transparency. The roles of the various institutional components of thesystem also need a thorough review, including the possibility for strengthening and/or transforming the Interim Committee. Members invited the Executive Board to develop its work in these directions and to report to the Committee at its next meeting.
On a number of points of great importance for the stability of the international financial system and the effective functioning of global capital markets, preparatory work is already well under way, and agreement around them is broad. Now is the time to follow up with concrete and rapid action. The following points were emphasized:
Private Sector Contribution
Computer Date Change
The Committee requested the Executive Board to advance its work in all of these areas, in cooperation with other institutions and fora, and to report to the Committee at its next meeting.
4. Reports on Other Fund Policies and Operations
a. Fund Liquidity, Quotas, NAB, and SDR Amendment
The Committee expressed serious concern over the Fund’s tight liquidity position. It stressed the critical importance in current conditions of augmenting the Fund's resources and urged all members to accelerate the process leading to the implementation of the agreed quota increase. The Committee also called for the completion of countries’ adherence to the New Arrangements to Borrow and for the early acceptance of the Fourth Amendment of the Articles of Agreement allowing for the special one-time allocation of SDRs. These were viewed as indispensable actions in present circumstances.
b. ESAF & HIPC Initiative—Implementation, Financing, and Lessons from Evaluation and Review; Post-Conflict Assistance
c. Bank-Fund Collaboration
The Committee considered recent initiatives to strengthen collaboration between the Bank and the Fund. While recognizing the specific mandates of the two institutions, it stressed the importance of their working together, including in joint missions, to assist countries in implementing integrated stabilization and structural reform programs. Enhanced collaboration would maximize the effectiveness of the two institutions at a time of high demands on their resources. The Committee attached particular importance to stronger cooperation in helping countries strengthen financial systems.
d. EMU and the Fund—Operational Issues
The Committee welcomed the decision of the European Union (EU) that 11 EU members will move to the third and final stage of economic and monetary union (EMU) on January 1, 1999. EMU will necessitate some changes in the Fund’s operational procedures, including those related both to surveillance and to the financing of the Fund. In light of the importance of the euro area, the Fund should develop its surveillance activities in this domain and complete its work to deal with the operational implications of the advent of EMU. In this context, the Committee underlined the importance of establishing an effective exchange of views with relevant EU institutions, especially the ECB.
The next meeting of the Interim Committee will be held in Washington, D.C. and is provisionally scheduled for April 27, 1999.
INTERIM COMMITTEE ATTENDANCE
October 4, 1998
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Members or Alternates
Ibrahim A. Al-Assaf, Minister of Finance and National Economy, Saudi Arabia
Yilmaz Akyuz, Chief, Macro-Economics and Development Policies Branch, UNCTAD
IMF EXTERNAL RELATIONS DEPARTMENT