Transcript of International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva's Opening Press Conference, 2019 Annual Meetings

October 17, 2019


Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director, IMF

David Lipton, First Deputy Managing Director, IMF

Gerry Rice, Director, Communications Department, IMF


Mr. Rice - Good morning, everyone, and a very warm welcome to these Annual Meetings. Lovely to see so many familiar faces in the room. It is my great pleasure this morning to introduce to you our Managing Director, Ms. Kristalina Georgieva. It will be her first press conference here at the Annual Meetings as Managing Director of the Fund; and, of course, just to Kristalina's right is David, whom you all know, David Lipton, our First Deputy Managing Director. I think you all have received a copy of the Managing Director's Global Policy Agenda in advance, and if you can keep your questions short, we will try and take as many as we can. With that, Managing Director.

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you very much. Very good morning. It is a great honor to be with you today. This is my first press conference in the position of Managing Director at the IMF. As I was walking, feeling the somewhat chilly fall weather, I thought of my favorite Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, and I want to start with a line from him: "The breath of autumn begins to ice the roadway", and it is unfortunately appropriate to start with it given the global outlook. We, as you know by now, are forecasting slower global growth this year and next, 3 percent in 2019, 3.4 percent in 2020. In both cases, this is a downgrade vis-à-vis the forecast we shared with you in April. Measured by GDP, nearly 90 percent of the world is experiencing slower growth. And as I said last week in my curtain raiser speech, this means the global economy is now in a synchronized slowdown. Fractures driven by trade, driven by uncertainty surrounding geopolitical tensions, and Brexit, they are holding back growth, and they are causing hazards in this shared road we are travelling on. They are slowing us down. So what can we do about it? Gerry has already mentioned that we have distributed the Global Policy Agenda. You all have it, and it spells out succinctly what we recommend.

We see five priorities. The first is to undo the harm on trade and find a lasting solution that will help us build a stronger trading system. I was encouraged by last week's announcements from the US and China. Our meetings this week are an opportunity for all parties to make progress in moving from a trade truce to a trade peace.

The second priority is to use monetary policy wisely. Accommodative policy remains appropriate in many countries. It has to be underpinned by independence of central banks and also communicated clearly. At the same time, we cannot ignore the financial stability risks that come with prolonged low rates. And that takes me to my third priority: Enable fiscal policy to play a more central role. Now is the time for countries with room in their budgets to deploy or get ready to deploy fiscal firepower. Of course, with global debt levels at record high, this advice will not work everywhere. What can work everywhere, though, are structural reforms. My fourth priority: Lagging productivity calls for measures to achieve stronger, more inclusive, and more resilient growth over the medium and long term. We ought to find ways to lift up productivity. From cutting red tape to boosting female labor force participation, there are a range of measures that countries can take so they can invest in a stronger, more dynamic future. We have to be mindful of potential losses from automation, dislocation from trade, aging populations. They actually make the need for reforms even more urgent and make attention to the cost of social reforms even more pressing.

My fifth and final priority is to promote stronger international cooperation, and that extends well beyond trade. From financial regulatory reform, to addressing climate change, to safely adapting to fintech, to fighting money-laundering, so many of our challenges do not respect national borders. Our solutions to these challenges must operate by the same principle of cooperation.

We at the IMF have the responsibility to be at the center of the global financial safety net, and it is a good example of international cooperation working really well. I am encouraged by our members' efforts to ensure that the Fund remains adequately resourced and that governance reforms continue, and we hope to have more on this topic to share with you during these meetings.

Before I conclude, I have one more additional bit of news. I am pleased to announce that beginning January 1, 2020, all IMF publications in digital formats will be made available to the public for free, and this is a small way in which we serve the people of our 189 member countries. So what is my goal for the days ahead? I want to make progress in all of the areas I have outlined this morning and in the process to secure a safer and more efficient journey on the challenging road ahead. And with this, thank you very much for your attention and I would be very happy, David and I, to take your questions.

Mr. Rice - Thank you very much. Let's keep the questions short. We will take as many as we possibly can. Let's begin here in the second row.

Question - Thank you very much, Gerry. Managing Director, just to follow up on your remarks on China-US trade tensions, so last week the talk about it and both sides that they have some progress made, so could you comment on that, and also how do you think a China-US deal could bring to the global economy? Thanks.

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you very much for this question. As I outlined last week, staff of the IMF has calculated the damage that tariffs already imposed or announced would cause to the world economy. We came with a fairly dire projection of 0.8 percent by 2020, shaved from the world economy should these tariffs continue. This is an equivalent of $700 billion. What we can share is that this is extremely good news that US and China are talking to each other. We could see the agreement shrinking this impact; and you would not be surprised, I did ask the very smart economists of the Fund to tell me by how much, and they said that the agreement as is being discussed, this truce as discussed could very well reduce the loss by 0.2 percent, and that, of course, is good news but not good enough. What we need is to reach not just truce. We need to have trade peace. We need to go forward to a system that is enhanced and it is enforced so we can see trade to return to its role of an engine of the world economy.

Mr. Rice - Thank you very much.

Question - Thank you. Managing Director, you perhaps have seen this morning news of a draft deal between the UK government and European Union on Brexit. What is your reaction to that news, and also do you have any advice for the parliamentarians in the UK who now have to vote on this?

Ms. Georgieva - This is good news. This, of course, is welcome. Very similar to the pound which jumped, I saw the news, and I jumped, right? We would like to see the agreement being reached. If I could quote my former boss, Jean Claude Juncker, who said, "Where there is a will, there is a deal". My hope for the next days is that the will holds in all quarters. So let's see whether that happens.

Mr. Rice - Thank you.

Question - I wanted to know, what do you think about the future of the standby agreement with Argentina and also what kind of flexibility the IMF would have in future negotiations with the new government? Thank you.

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you very much. We at the IMF are fully committed to work with Argentina and to make sure that there can be policy improvements that lead ultimately to better lives for people in Argentina. We are very closely engaged in following all the developments in the country, and I can assure you that this will of the IMF to stand by Argentina was strong when Christine Lagarde left the Fund, and it is strong when I now take over. We will be very interested to see what policy framework would be put in place, and when we have that, we can continue this conversation. I will be very happy to have a follow-up with you.

Mr. Rice - Thank you very much.

Question - Earlier you mentioned you want to allow your urgent fiscal policies to take more central roles, and also you mentioned about helping repatriate stolen funds. We want your thoughts on how the IMF is going to help Nigeria repatriate stolen funds, and what sort of advice would you give to our fiscal authorities on how to play a more central role? Thank you.

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you very much. You bring up a question about the country that matters not only to the citizens of this country, Nigeria; it matters to the whole continent of Africa. When Nigeria does well, Africa does well. What we see, however, is that economic recovery remains still too slow to reduce vulnerabilities, and most importantly, to reduce poverty in the country. What we experience is some good thoughts around shaking up economic policy now that a government is being constituted in Nigeria. We have been quite consistent to talk about three issues in Nigeria that need to be tackled. One is the question of fiscal capacity. As you know, the tax collection levels in Nigeria leave quite a lot of room for improvement, and without strengthening the fiscal position of the government, the expenditure side, of course, would suffer; so the recommendations that we always give is that countries should aim for [15] percent of GDP in terms of collection to fund the responsibilities of the government, and in Nigeria this is still quite far. If I am not wrong, we are still in the single-digit territory.

Secondly, we have been consistently recommending the country to diversify the economy because reliance on oil does not serve very well, and that means to continue with structural reforms that would make that possible.

Last but not least, to fight corruption and to make sure that the richness of Nigeria serves Nigeriens inside the country; and in that regard, as you know, last year the Fund adopted a very clear, strong policy on anti-corruption, and we engaged with governments to build their capacity to make that serving the citizens of the country with the money of the country possible.

Mr. Rice - Thank you so much. Egypt, please.

Question - Good morning. In the beginning, I would like to congratulate you on being appointed as the Managing Director of the IMF, and I wish you all success. My question is about giving small details about the program or the loan provided, but the loan between Egypt and the IMF, is it a financing program, or is it a preventative program, and what is the timing of that program?

A second part of the question about the program which was entered in three years ago and will end next month. What kind of progress has been made by the government of Egypt with regards to the structural reforms, and are there any expectations on your side regarding the influence of the reduction of foreign direct investments on the exchange rate in the coming period? Thank you very much.

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you very much for your question. I had an opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Madbouly two days ago, and we had a very constructive and deep discussion on the implementation of the soon-to-be-completed program as well as on future engagements. Let me start with the reform program that the IMF supported, so far nearly $12 billion that have been used by Egypt quite effectively to strengthen the country in many ways. Primary surplus is now 2 percent of GDP. Public debt declined by about 8 percent of GDP, and what I am particularly pleased to share is that unemployment has declined to around 8 percent. What we now see is a more vibrant economy in which the private sector is finding space to grow. The program very explicitly helped Egypt on social protection, so the poorest segments of the society could not be negatively impacted by measures taken, especially by very important measure for the stability of the Egyptian economy, and that was the reduction of energy subsidies. I want to praise Egypt for taking a very thoughtful pathway in that regard. Almost 50 percent cut in energy subsidies. They were over 6 percent of GDP before, and, of course, the benefit of bringing down energy subsidies is, there is more money for Egypt to invest in education and health, in the human capital of the country, in infrastructure, hugely important for growth; but at the same time, social protection has been expanded. So the reduction of subsidies did not unnecessarily harm poor people. And these are considerable achievements.

Obviously, Egypt is determined to continue on that path of reforms. Critical for Egypt with a growing and very youthful population is job creation. We know that most jobs come from the private sector, so reducing red tape, making it possible for lending to be accessible to private investors, all of this really matters. We are discussing further structural reforms in reducing the role of the state, very specifically with the Prime Minister. We talked about state-owned enterprises and the necessity to thoughtfully reduce their role in the economy, but most importantly, to make sure that they function in a competitive environment with the private sector on equal footing. Where we are with the second program, we are discussing the value of continuous engagement with Egypt. We have not yet agreed on the exact modalities. That would be done in the next weeks, months, and then we would have another conversation. Thank you.

Mr. Rice - Thank you very much.

Question - Thank you very much. I would like to put a question on fiscal policy and Japan's role. Former chief economist at the IMF, Dr. Oliver Blanchard, has made waves in the economics community recently. He has the new understanding on debt and deficits, and as it relates to Japan, he has urged, suggested, not only delaying their hike in the consumption tax, but also urged fiscal stimulus, although Japan's room is limited. Why is there a difference between this former chief IMF economist and the IMF today, and what are your thoughts on the Japanese economy and the consumption tax and its role going forward?

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you for the question. You will not be surprised that in my third week on the job, I would align myself with my current chief economist; and, of course, it is good to have debates around the best policy pathway given the difficulties many of our economies are facing these days, for longer interest rates, even negative interest rates, high debt levels, stagnating productivity, demographics; no need to say what it is in Japan. So looking in different ways to approach the pathway to higher growth is very, very welcome.

As for the IMF, what we have seen is the following: one, the Japanese economy has done reasonably well in recent years. It has had a long run above potential growth, and Abenomics has a lot to do with it. Even with this weaker environment and the October 1 proposed increase in the rate of consumption, we project real growth at 0.9 percent. We expected it would moderate to 0.5 percent, but this is still in the positive territory. We think that Japan has been right to take measures from creating a more competitive environment, labor market reforms, so more women can enter the labor force, and emphasis on profitability, on low unemployment that has given confidence to Japanese consumers, and we see all the good reasons for this to continue. Of course, we are not there in terms of debt shrinkage, so I do not know; I need to read what our former economist is saying. You have that much debt, but you do not improve your fiscal, I would have an opinion on that; I promise you.

Question - Congratulations, Ms. Georgieva, on your first Annual Meetings. I would like to come back to trade for a second. Since last week in your first speech when you sort of added up the damage from the trade war to the global economy, we have had some good news with the US and Chinese announcement. Overnight we did hear something good about the Brexit deal. I am just wondering if you feel like the world economy will not fully recover unless the US and Chinese fully resolve their trade conflict, that they make all the tariffs go away. Is that a requirement for us to really see growth get going again?

And, secondly, do you see any lasting damage from these interest rate conflicts, the rearrangement of supply chains to a more efficient way of doing business? Is there anything in the Brexit uncertainty that has caused some lasting damage there? Thank you.

Ms. Georgieva - Well, first, thank you very much for pronouncing so well my last name, not the easiest task. Let me start by saying we all had to get accustomed to live with more uncertainty, and it is not just uncertainty caused by policy changes and reversals in countries. We are operating in a very fast-moving world. We all have to get accustomed to the pace of change. It will never be that slow in the future, and the factors that drive uncertainty range from technology creating disruptions, new opportunities, but also new risks, to climate change. We can have a disaster that wipes out a couple of percentage points of GDP and disrupts supply chains; and, of course, we have had the China-US trade tensions now for some time. So to answer your question, I would not boil it down to one issue to be resolved, and then all would be fine; but I would stress that it is highly beneficial to bring forward trade, and that means also to candidly assess what is not quite right in today's trade system. We all know that we have been reaching agreements on trade based primarily on the past, but you cannot drive just looking in the rearview mirror. We have now e-commerce expanding exponentially. It is not easy to be regulating trade agreements. We have the services economy contributing much more, including to trade, and yet agreements are not quite covering certainties. So we actually have a lot of work to do, and it would be a great mistake to zero in only on the relationships, as important as they are to large economies. We have to think what we need for the future and then roll out work so we can have trade again to be a vital engine of growth for the world economy. I want to remind all of us, especially youngsters who do not really quite have the reflection of the past, we came to where we are not just for economic gains, but for peace; and it is so categorically proven that yes, trade is good for growth, good for jobs, good for poverty reduction. Trade is great for peace. Research shows that when countries trade, they do not fight that much; that at the period of time of most expansionist trade agreements, incidence of conflicts in the world dropped by 94 percent. So if we want a peaceful and prosperous future, we have to work in a much broader way on a trading system that underpins that future.

Mr. Rice - Thank you so much.

Question - What do you think is the best future global trading system in your view and what role IMF and WTO play respectively. And, DMD Lipton, what do you think China and the US role in this new trade mechanism?

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you, and actually I want to go just for a sentence back to the previous question, and I do not want to leave you with the impression that it is not important for US and China to reach a lasting peace in the area of trade. It is very important. These are very strong and important economies, and that would help, it would boost growth, but we are not looking just for a small boost of growth. We want a bigger acceleration of the world economy, and for that we need more than just that deal. So to go back to you, I actually tried to answer your question not knowing you would be asking it when I was answering the previous one.

The trading system we have today has served us well in the economy of the past. It does not quite serve us for the economy of the future, and we need to recognize that we will have to find a way as a world community to be more agile and adaptable in agreements we reach because the world will continue to change. It will not stay still. The WTO has a very important role to play, but I would put most of the emphasis on the members of WTO, of the members of the IMF. We need all shareholders in their own self-interest to look for ways in which we can cooperate and make the dynamics of the world economy stronger, because if we do not, we will not be able to meet the aspirations of people for better lives, and we will not be able to eradicate poverty that is such a drag on the world today.

Mr. Lipton - The Managing Director said most of what needs to be said on this. Just on China and the United States, we have been saying that the two countries need to deescalate conflict and have dialogue, and I think we are seeing that happen. Both countries have a lot to gain, but the gains only come if there is real compromise. The Managing Director used the expression that trade practices need to be enhanced and enforced. In a world where China is so large in the global economy, it is important that their reforms continue and that practices that may not have been consequential for the rest of the world, are very consequential when China is large; so I think the direction of these negotiations heading towards agreements between the two countries and with some real change is important. China has a lot to gain, and the two countries have a lot to do to lead the global economy at a time where everyone has so much to gain from strengthening of trade relations that can make trade once again an engine of growth for the global economy.

Mr. Rice - Thank you so much.

Question - I just wonder whether you did some work on what the impact of trade wars is on global growth, and you have calibrated it. I just wonder whether you have done any work on what Brexit would mean both for the UK economy and the European economy and perhaps for the world economy, what potentially a deal could do?

Ms. Georgieva - The IMF has done quite extensive work on Brexit, on the scenarios of exiting with a deal and exiting without a deal, and the difference is quite dramatic. Exiting without a deal could cost the UK economy 3.5 percent or more, up to 5 percent of lost GDP, and it would cost the EU up to half a percentage point loss of GDP. That is quite significant. We also have done some work on what are the implications of exiting with a deal. There are still implications for the UK economy of that, significantly more modest, in the order of 2 percent, with the caveat that a lot of that impact has already been absorbed because the anticipation of the UK leaving the EU has been built over a three-year period.

Mr. Rice - Thank you very much.

Question - Your expectation for the bounceback in global growth for 2020 is based largely on the resolution of the US-China trade war and some of these other political economic missteps. I am curious about why the expectation for that, given that most economists and Fund managers in the private sector do not see a near-term resolution, and if there is any thought about rethinking the kind of rosy expectations for politicians to do the right thing or make decisions that economically boost growth, as they have not over the past three years or so.

Ms. Georgieva - We actually had a lot of internal discussion before I joined, even more so on that question; and on balance, the team came to the conclusion that there is, of course, a lot of downside risk in this forecast for modest increase of growth vis-a-vis 2019 and 2020. But to the extent that what is happening in 2019 is driven by tensions that can be moderated in trade, as well as by downturn in some large economies that we anticipate with good policies can be reversed, the team came to the conclusion that we can halt on a more positive outlook for 2020, yet stressing, stressing, the downside risks to this forecast are significant. David?

Mr. Lipton - Let me just add on that a good portion of the increased growth in 2020 comes because we have the presumption that a number of very troubled economies that fell sharply this year, Iran, Venezuela, Argentina, Turkey, will not decline again, and that is actually the largest contributor to this. Now, we do not know that that will happen. That prospect makes this a precarious forecast, and I think it is right to think of our view as seeing a gradual synchronous global slowdown and in core countries, that continuing absent actions by countries.

Mr. Rice - Thank you so much.

Question - You are the first Managing Director of IMF from a developing country. How has that equipped you for the job, and how can that help you to help developing countries like Africa? Finally, you talked about trade. As you know, that right now the African Continental Trade Agreement is just taking off. Are you worried that some big countries may actually swallow small economies, like what happened when Chinese came to Africa and the factories died in Nigeria and Angola, everywhere? Thank you.

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you for your question. It is an advantage to have lived through IMF program on the receiving side. My own country, Bulgaria, in the mid-1990s, went through a dramatic crisis. Hyperinflation wiped out my mother's savings in a week. I also saw how adopting good policies can build a foundation for growth, employment, and improvement in living standards. My country is now a proud member of the European Union, four times higher income per capita than in these days.

I also had the benefit of working in Africa extensively. I have high hopes for the continent, and I have great worries for some of the countries in the continent. I believe that the Continental Free Trade Agreement is a very major step forward for the continent. To be implemented, though, it would require countries to think not only within their national boundaries but about how they can improve connectivity so that goods and people can travel across Africa much more freely than they do today.

What we believe, in the Fund, we can do is to help countries in Africa to adopt policies that are boosting growth, reducing corruption, where it exists, and directing fiscal resources towards investment in what is the most critical for Africa: the people of Africa, education, in particular, and the infrastructure, the connectivity of Africa. We have seen enlightened leadership in Africa that is bringing the continent up and forward.

I do not know whether there is anybody from Ethiopia in the room, but I want to wholeheartedly congratulate Prime Minister Abiy, the people of Ethiopia, and the whole continent of Africa for the Nobel Prize that he just recently received.

This leadership, with our humble assistance, can do so much more for Africa to be a continent of opportunity, not of crisis.

Mr. Rice - Thank you so much.

I want to give South Asia a question here. Yes, sir. It is the fifth row back.

Question - In your opening remarks, you said that it is time for countries with room to do what is necessary or prepare to do what is necessary to boost growth.

Just to get a sense of what you think of India's current standing. I mean, the government has done a few things, including cutting the corporate tax. Does India have room to do something further or probably focus more on its structural reforms at this point in time?

Ms. Georgieva - Well, thank you. We have seen very strong growth in India over the last years. We are projecting reasonably strong growth for India; although, like the rest of the world, India is experiencing a slowdown. So slightly over 6 percent is what we expect to see in 2019.

India has worked on the fundamentals, but there are problems to be addressed. In the financial sector, especially non-bank institutions, there are steps being taken now to consolidate banks. They ought to help resolve some of these issues. And, of course, in India, what is critically important is to continue with addressing the long-term drivers of growth.

Investment in human capital in India is a top priority. It has to continue. Bringing women into the labor force is hugely important. India has very talented women, but they stay at home. So, yes, structural reforms are a priority for India, and we expect to see those reforms continue.

Mr. Rice - Thank you so much. I think we maybe have two more. Let's take Mexico in the front here.

Question - I want to know your opinion about the main challenges that you see for Mexico. And if you would please tell us something else about the Latin American region; in particular, the situation in Colombia and Venezuela, please. And congratulations.

Ms. Georgieva - Thank you.

Well, Mexico does not make an exception in this picture of slowdown. The commitment in the country, which has been projected through the budget for the next year, is one to continue with policies that are friendly for private sector-led growth. And more of this needs to be done.

We are very closely aligned with Mexico on the risks that the economy is facing. As you know, Mexico has secured support from the Fund through a Flexible Credit Line. This is a buffer that is right there to protect against those higher risks that we see today. We are in discussions around the next steps in our engagement with Mexico. Gradually, this credit line ought to be found unnecessary, but we are not there yet. So the discussion is more around the size of this buffer that the IMF is providing to Mexico.

We, obviously, have been following very closely the developments in Latin America. The whole region slowed down more than the rest of the world. So what we are seeing everywhere, we see it even more in most of Latin America, for different reasons in different countries.

Colombia is a case where there is exogenous factors, and that is the crisis in Venezuela. Colombia is not the only country that has been receiving refugees from Venezuela, but it is the country where the number of these refugees is the largest. To a certain degree, that has been helpful to the economy of Colombia because these are educated, qualified people. They boost the labor market in Colombia. But in the numbers of their arrivals, this, of course, is a very heavy burden on Colombia.

In my previous position at the World Bank, I worked very hard to bring donor support to buy down the cost of borrowing for Colombia because of the service the country is providing to the region and the world, by hosting refugees.

Here at the Fund, similar to Mexico, we have a Flexible Credit Line for Colombia. Similarly, we are hoping to see a pathway to reducing this credit line, but we have absolutely no intention whatsoever to weaken the support for Colombia, given the situation in the neighborhood.

Mr. Rice - Thank you. Last question.

The Managing Director will be traveling to Thailand very soon after the Annual Meetings, so I want to take the Thailand question or the ASEAN question at the back here.

Question - Thank you for taking my question.

As you have your first mission to Thailand in early November, I would like to know, what do you plan to address with our Prime Minister? Because Thailand is the chair of ASEAN this year. And what are you going to address IMF's engagement to the ASEAN community, especially as ASEAN is on the edge of the trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

Ms. Georgieva - Well, I very much look forward to this trip and to being together with the leaders of ASEAN.

The countries of ASEAN have done better overall, in comparison to the rest of the world. To a great degree, these countries got immunized against shocks during the East Asian crisis. They have taken measures that have strengthened their financial systems, and that has made them more resilient.

What I would be very interested to learn more from my visit is: What is the thinking of the leadership in ASEAN, the leadership in Thailand, on how to weather the slowdown in the world economy? What ideas for forward-leaning reforms that there are. So I can say, I will be there on a learning trip.

One last point. ASEAN has taken a step towards building a regional financial arrangement. Just yesterday, I met with the leadership of ASEAN Plus Three about the financial arrangement to buffer ASEAN. And I will use the opportunity also to talk a bit more about how we can collaborate for a strong global financial safety net, in the context of more uncertainty and more frequent shocks.

Mr. Rice - Madam Georgieva, thank you so much. Thanks to David. Thanks to everybody here. We will see you over the next few days.

IMF Communications Department


Phone: +1 202 623-7100Email: