Transcript of a Press Briefing by William Murray, Deputy Spokesman , Communications Department, International Monetary Fund

Washington, D.C.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Webcast of the press briefing Webcast

MR. MURRAY: Hi. Good day. I'm William Murray, Deputy Spokesman for the Communication's Department at the International Monetary Fund. Happy New Year and welcome to one of our regular press briefings here at IMF headquarters here in Washington. We're embargoed until 10:30 a.m. Washington time. That's 2:30 p.m. GMT.

As usual, let me take you through a few things before I take questions from journalists here in the room, at Headquarters, and those that are online.

Let's start with management travel. The Managing Director is currently in Mali. I think you may have seen some remarks she's issued there, and follow the website for updates on various press releases.

On January 15th, the Managing Director will address the National Press Club here in Washington, DC at 1:30 p.m. local time. The event will be webcast live on our public website. It will also be broadcast on C-SPAN.

The event is an opportunity for the Managing Director to tee up some of the key issues for the year ahead, some of the key themes and other aspects of the IMF work program going forward.

The Managing Director and Deputy Managing Directory Min Zhu will also represent the IMF at the World Economic Forum on January 23-25, in Davos, Switzerland.

Regarding other members of management, First Duty Managing Director David Lipton, will be in Beijing January 13-14. He's attending a conference on fiscal issues, and he's meeting with the Chinese authorities. Following his visit to Beijing, Mr. Lipton will be in Paris on January 17-18 for a meeting of the Bellagio Group. The event is hosted by the OECD.

Deputy Managing Director, Nemat Shafik will be in India for meetings with the Reserve Bank of India and their Center of Advanced Financial Research and Learning. That's also January 13-14. Following her visit to India she will travel to the U.K. for meetings with U.K. Parliamentarians.

Deputy Managing Director Naoyuki Shinohara will be in Tokyo, Japan to speak about unconventional monetary policies at a seminar organized by Hitosubashi University and IMF’s regional office for Asia Pacific in Tokio. That seminar will take place January 23-24.

This coming Monday January 13, we will be releasing details of a revamp methodology to determine which countries are required to undergo mandatory financial sector assessments or regular financial sector assessments.

We're going to be making these papers available to the press tomorrow, Friday, for release on Monday. I don't want to get into too much detail at this juncture, but you may recall that in 2010 the Fund's Executive Board agreed to make mandatory FSAPs for the top 25 financial sectors. The number of countries and financial sectors will be expanded and you'll get more information on that on Monday. The Board adopted a new policy in December to address that.

Lastly, before I take questions, on January 21 we will be releasing an update on the World Economic Outlook. There will be a press conference here at IMF Headquarters at 9:30 a.m. local time on January 21st.

And just for planning purposes, our next press briefing is January 23. With that let me take questions from the room and then we can move on. Please identify yourself for everybody.

QUESTIONER: In the December of 2013, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has pushed the Senate and the House to pass the IMF Code of Reform. So after that it's being a month, so does the IMF have any follow-up work on that? And do you have an idea that when the U.S. Congress will probably vote for this reform? Thank you.

MR. MURRAY: You basically covered the ground that I would. I mean, the U.S. has a legislative process in place, which will help implement the 2010 Governance reforms. I'll explain that a bit for those who aren't familiar with it.

The legislative process is underway right now. We want the reforms to be adopted expeditiously. It's really the U.S. Treasury, Jack Lew and his team that's taking the lead on getting these measures through the U.S. Congress that are required to implement the 2010 reforms.

Just to remind you what those are. The 2010 reforms do a couple things. One, they bring four dynamic emerging market countries into the top 10 shareholder ranks or what we call quota ranks of the institution. China, Brazil, Russia, India. It also doubles our permanent capital, the quota. And it also creates a fully elected Executive Board. Those are among the key measures. And at the same time it protects the voice and vote of the world's poorest countries and institutions. So we've been working on this for some time, and we'll see how it goes. Beyond that I don't have anything to offer on quota.

QUESTIONER: Can you give us, please, the exact date that Mr. Poul Thomsen is going back to Greece, and if you know for how long the mission is planning to stay there. And if this visit is going to be the last one in order for the review to be completed.

MR. MURRAY: Okay. Thanks for those questions. You know, we expect the mission, Poul Thomsen, the Mission Chief, to return soon to Athens. The exact date has not yet been set. And also make it clear, typically we don't announce the end date of a mission before it goes as well. So I can't give you any mission date, and we wouldn't normally announce when it's going to conclude.

QUESTIONER: The Greek government announced that Mr. Thomsen is going to Athens soon, on January 15th. Why you don't announce it if it's so?

MR. MURRAY: I don't have it. I don't have a date for you.

QUESTIONER: The Greek Prime Minister announced that this country could exit the bailouts this year, the IMF bailouts this year. So do you think it's -- and they also said that there are -- that would be stable in 2014. Is it consistent with the IMF assessment of the situation in the country?

MR. MURRAY: Thanks for the question. You may recall that Poul Thomsen, our Mission Chief for Greece, had some public comments back in November, and those basically still hold true. Let me remind you what they are. These are in the public record. According to what Poul said at the time, he said that we are already seeing renewed investor interest in some segments of the economy, notably the financial system with determined policy implementation such confidence will undoubtedly spread, including to the market for Greek government debt.

I shall not speculate on when this might happen. The uncertainty is still large, but our experience suggests that once a virtuous cycle gets underway confidence can return quite fast. The key to this happening remains continued, strong program implementation.

QUESTIONER: The Greek government has said that they will not need any further financial assistance, and so far the IMF has been clear on the fact that the Europeans should have to bring finance reports. So have you changed your mind?

MR. MURRAY: No. Don’t try to interpret anything. The mission that I was asked about is when Poul is returning to Athens is a review mission of the existing Greece program. We still have a program with Greece. We're still working our way through the current program. To leap frog beyond that is -- I couldn't possibly do that right now.

QUESTIONER: So the EU released a portion of its loan in December, if I’m not mistaken. And I know there been some delays sometimes between, the EU and the IMF, but it's pretty rare to have a disbursement and the IMF meanwhile still blocking its portion of (inaudible). Are you speaking with two different voices now or do you not have the same criteria anymore to agree on disbursement?

MR. MURRAY: My exact recollection what happened back a few months ago is that there might have been some gaps in terms of the timing of disbursements.

But your characterization suggests that there's some sort of division or divisiveness. I think it's just a timing issue. I don't see anything beyond that at this stage.

QUESTIONER: If the EU agreed to a disbursement is that they considered the conditions were met. The IMF obviously does not. So I'm just trying to understand what is still blocking the IMF?

MR. MURRAY: It's a review mission. We're talking about the budget, you know, all sorts of other aspects of the program with Greece. So it's a quite normal process that's underway.

QUESTIONER: (inaudible)

MR. MURRAY: These are, you know, it's a complicated economic matrix that we're working through, so. I don't want to make any -- I wouldn't want to try to over interpret what's going on.

QUESTIONER: Russia is chairing the G8 this year, so if you could give us your perspective, the IMF perspective on what the biggest priorities for the G8 this year might be?

MR. MURRAY: Russia is the chair of the G8 as you've noted. The agenda's driven by the chair and by the membership of the G8 itself which we are not, so we're not members of the group of eight. You know, it's really up to the Russians to drive that.

There's also Russia just completed chairmanship of the G20. We have a little bit more active role in terms of providing economic analysis reports directly to the G20 ministers, and the G8, but the G20, there's a G20 process that's a little bit more active.

There's a G20 meeting, ministerial meeting coming up in Australia in late February. The G8 process is still playing out, so I really don't have any guidance for you on the G8. And later when we have briefings, when we get closer to the G20 ministerial in February we'll have some more to say on that.

QUESTIONER: But the economy issues traditionally are the centerpiece for both groupings --

MR. MURRAY: Yeah.

QUESTIONER: So basically if you look ahead from the point of the IMF as to what needs to be done for the world economy. So sort of a preview for the --

MR. MURRAY: I see what you're getting. I mean, our broad agenda is -- I mean, don't forget the Managing Director had an op-ed that's been published recently. She'll have her address at the National Press Club which will build upon some of her message there.

I mean, getting global growth on a more robust path which will aid job creation in the advance economies, encouraging structural adjustments in the big emerging market countries which help create jobs as well, particularly in the emerging markets. I mean, those are the kind of things. Getting the world moving forward in a more active, healthy way is an overarching goal for this year.

QUESTIONER: If I may follow-up, you've been doing this for a number of years now, do you see any change in the priorities of the IMF?

MR. MURRAY: Well, I'll leave that to the Managing Director. I mean, yes, we have to be flexible. We have to evolve as things evolve. I mean, don't forget the Managing Director's speech back at our annual meetings in October talked about transitions. And that's where we were transitioning into a different phase and, you know, the global economic activity.

So yeah, I mean, priorities evolve as we transition from severe crisis into sort of more post-crisis status. But we'll elaborate as we go along. I don't want to use this briefing today to tell you -- I would refer you though for our audience, there's a couple documents you should always look at.

We have a work program which shows sort of the institutional priorities. And you'll see there's a lot of work underway on unconventional monetary policy. There's things underway about debt sustainability, fiscal policies. There is a lot of work underway as well in terms of the quality of our analysis on regional spillovers, country spillovers. You know, we're still tuning that up, and that will evolve forever.

So those are the kind of things that are underway, but look at the work program. Also look at the Managing Director's Global Policy Agenda which was also published back in October. And that's the overarching agenda. That's not really changing. Those are forward looking things.

QUESTIONER: And if I may on Ukraine, just a brief update if you would?

MR. MURRAY: Sure.

QUESTIONER: Do you still have discussions with them on a new program or what's going on?

MR. MURRAY: Okay. At this time I'm not aware of any detailed program discussions. I don't have anything to elaborate on the status of the authority's request for a Standby Arrangement at this time.

QUESTIONER: Okay. Just was wondering, the EU Parliament sent questions out to the commission, the CBN, the IMF --

MR. MURRAY: Right.

QUESTIONER: -- and the commission's response came out yesterday in a report. What about the IMF? Are you going to have your own report? The theme of -- was the success of programs in the Euro region. Okay?

MR. MURRAY: Okay.

QUESTIONER: Including Greece, I guess.

MR. MURRAY: Thanks for that question. The so called “troika review” that's underway in the European Parliament. The European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs is doing a review at the moment. The Parliamentary committees have asked us to discuss troika programs from the Fund perspective. Reza Moghadam, the Director of our European department has agreed to meet informally with the committees later in January. I assumed you'd follow-up with the Parliament. They would have more precision on dates.

Reza agreed to informally meet with them. We don't formally testify before Parliaments or Congresses of that nature, but certainly he'll discuss with them the programs.

We expect that this information that he shares with the European Parliament will flow into a final report of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee which then will be made public by the European Parliament.

QUESTIONER: You said that Reza was going there or they're coming here?

MR. MURRAY: I would expect he would go there. I don't expect the Parliamentarians to come here. I mean, they -- Parliamentarians visit IMF headquarters from time to time, but not for this reason. No, he would informally meet with them.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. I have to get back to Greece actually.

MR. MURRAY: I'm not going to offer you too much, but go ahead.

QUESTIONER: No, I'm sorry, but if I’m not mistaken, the IMF program with Greece is supposed to last until 2016. So is it realistic from the -- am I correct?

MR. MURRAY: It's roughly a four-year program. Yup, that's about right.

QUESTIONER: So is it realistic for the Greek Prime Minister to say that the company will be out of financial assistance this year.

MR. MURRAY: They have a program with us. I mean, financial assistance from us? I mean, is that what you're saying or --

QUESTIONER: Yeah, yeah.

MR. MURRAY: Well, we have a review. I mean, we're still fully engaged with the Greeks.

QUESTIONER: Until 2016?

MR. MURRAY: We're fully engaged with the Greeks. I have no -- I can't, you know, predict where we're gonna be in -- you know, but yeah. I have no indication that we're ending anything with the Greeks. Zero.

QUESTIONER: Do you have any reaction for the arrest of some businessmen and bankers in Greece? And I'm asking you this question because we didn't see in Greece such a thing for many, many years. To see so many bankers and businessmen going to jail.

MR. MURRAY: I don't have any comments on this. I'm aware of the reports. I don't have any comments to make on this particular case or any of the other legal cases that are going on in Greece.

Let me take some questions from the screen here because we have a bunch. And the question is, are there frequent contacts with the Argentinian authorities? With whom and on what topics?

MR. MURRAY: You know, I mean, don't forget Argentina's got an executive director here at the IMF, so, you know, that in itself is a frequent contact. So I'm not sure, what you're driving at, but I assume it's in context of, I'm guessing here, I assume it's in context of our ongoing -- the ongoing data issue and things of that nature.

Sure, there are regular discussions, but as you know, we put out a statement, there is a series of benchmarks. The first one will be in the spring of this year that have to be met. A report has to be submitted by the Managing Director to the Executive Board on the state of Argentina's inflation data. So in the context of preparations for those reports there would obviously be contacts.

Okay. One other question we have here is on Tunisia, what is the IMF's response to criticism that its recommendations have led to the vehicle tax increase being protested? Is Tunisia on track for the loan second tranche at or after January 29th meeting, as a finance minister said yesterday?

I don't have anything specific on the underpinnings of the protest. A very complicated dynamic in Tunisia, but let me talk about our program.

Tunisia has a two year standby arrangement with the Fund. It entered into that arrangement with the IMF in June of 2013. So they're in a two year program.

Right now we are in discussions with the Tunisian authorities on the first and second program reviews.

So we have not yet completed the first program review, and we are in discussions about completing review that incorporates the first review and the second review. That’s ongoing and I really -- until we get through that it's kind of difficult to discuss that in more detail.

A mission was in Tunisia in November, and we're currently having long distance discussions from what I understand. To underscore, the IMF remains fully committed to supporting Tunisia through financing, economic, and financial policy advice, and through technical assistance. Obviously there's a lot of political issues, and other things that are boiling there. It has an impact on policy implementation.

Some progress on policy implementation has been made particularly in the financial sector area. Income tax convergence and Tunisia's investment code. Obviously we have -- there's more work to do, but we are in ongoing program discussions.

QUESTIONER: I was wondering has the IMF noticed any negative parts of the Fed tapering on the emerging markets? Since the the Fed has announced that it was going to reduce the pace of its asset purchases?

MR. MURRAY: Well, May of last year there was, you know, a fairly high degree of volatility. Things have much improved. Alejandro Werner, the Director of our Western Hemisphere Department has published an op-ed in a number of Latin American newspapers, which pretty well encapsulates our views on some of the impact of the tapering and the future of unconventional monetary policy in the United States on the big emerging markets.

Now, this is a complex issue, but in this very narrow sense, if you think of the end game, ultimately the reason you would withdraw monetary policies, you would have a robust U.S. economy that would be a growth engine.

So in the net, this is the message that Alejandro imparted. Overall, it's a very positive trend.

As a policymaker you've got to build on the important gains you have made in recent years. Many of the countries in Latin America have made significant progress in macroeconomic policy. They're in a good place, but they need to keep their eye on the situation. And there's always a danger of market volatility. And we've seen some episodes of that, but that's a concern. That's something you're going to have to watch for, market volatility.

QUESTIONER: You said many times, the IMF, that you are not going to give the next loan to Greece if you don't have assurances for the Europeans that they are going to cover the funding cap. Do you still stand on this position?

MR. MURRAY: No, the thing is -- don't forget, the Europeans assured us of financing, so now we have to nail down details. But they've assured of us financing, so it's not that -- you know, your question implies that there is -- those insurances don't exist, but they do, so.

QUESTIONER: So you are covered from this assurances?

MR. MURRAY: Say again?

QUESTIONER: You are cover?

MR. MURRAY: Well, we have to discuss details, and that's part of the process underway. I don't have any details. I can't share any details with you at the moment.

I think we played out Greece, but I will let you -- you get the last Greece question. How's that?

QUESTIONER: The last one. Last Greek question. Thank you. Do you think that Greece will be able to partly return to the markets this year?

MR. MURRAY: Well, I mean, I can read what Poul Thomsen said back in November. I don't think I read that earlier to you, what he stated publicly. You know, that's the thing, you have to wait and see, but, you know, there's a lot of challenge ahead.

Okay. Any other questions?

QUESTIONER: Are you having any date for the return of the mission to Cyprus?

MR. MURRAY: I don't have any specific guidance. I mean, let me, you know, this state of play I think you're very familiar with this, is the second review was completed back in December.

So we're still -- you know, we've got three reviews are in one month. There's three -- quarterly basis, in essence. So I don't have any information on specific dates, but you've got to assume it's going to be some weeks away before we're even in a position to talk about the timing of the next mission.

But let me just underpin for the record, the conclusion of that mission, the second review mission, the program is on track, and economic outturns while still depressed have been better than projected. Significant progress has been made to recapitalize and restructure the financial sector. Financial performance has been better than expected, and important fiscal structural reforms are underway.

Obviously much remains to be done to restore to capacity of the financial sector's port economic activity public finance sustainability and long run growth. Program risks remain substantial leaving no room for implementation slippages. That's what I have today.

Okay. So, we're embargo until 10:30 a.m. Washington time. Thank you for joining us today. If you have any follow-up questions, please send an email to media@imf.org. We're happy to follow-up. We'll be back here on January 23rd, and happy New Year



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