2002 Annual Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group

IMFC Statements
September 28, 2002

Documents Related to September 28, 2002 IMFC Meeting

Republic of Armenia and the IMF

Bulgaria and the IMF

Bosnia and Herzegovina and the IMF

Cyprus and the IMF

Georgia and the IMF

Republic of Croatia and the IMF

Israel and the IMF

Republic of Moldova and the IMF

former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the IMF

Kingdom of the Netherlands-Netherlands and the IMF

Romania and the IMF

Ukraine and the IMF

Statement by Hans Hoogervorst
Minister of Finance of the Netherlands
International Monetary and Financial Committee

Washington D.C., September 28, 2002

Representing the constituency consisting of Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Israel, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Romania, and Ukraine

Learning from the Asian crisis: an unfinished agenda

Five years ago, global financial stability was threatened by the Asian crisis. The emergency seemed to come out of nowhere, and dashed the prospects of countries that had been considered the most successful in the developing world. The crises shook confidence not only in the emerging markets and the global economy, but also in international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. In taking up the challenge to strengthen the international financial architecture, both institutions have drawn lessons from the crisis, as is visible in at least three areas.

First, the IMF and the World Bank have led new initiatives to monitor the complex interlinkages between a country's macroeconomic development and the quality of its institutions, notably through the Financial Sector Assessment Programs (FSAP) and the Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSC). Second, along with promoting transparency and adherence to the universally accepted "rules of the game" among its member countries, the IMF itself has become increasingly open. This approach helps strengthen accountability and enables markets and policy makers to better assess risks. Third, the IMF has taken steps to streamline the conditions of its lending in order to align these with its mandate, take better into account countries' capacity to deal with complex reforms, and to achieve a good division of labour with the World Bank. Notwithstanding considerable progress, the agenda for a greater resilience of the financial architecture is yet unfinished.

New risks to global stability

It is ironical that, according to the World Economic Outlook, Asia - together with the CEE and CIS countries—seems to be almost the only bright spot in today's world economy. The recovery of the global economy is weaker than expected with growth prospects for the US economy being further downgraded. At least three risks to global stability and growth can be discerned, which—and that is important to emphasise- are not confined to the emerging economies or developing countries. As noted in the World Economic Outlook, one of the risks is the widening current account deficit of the US, which has already led to lower capital inflows and a lower dollar exchange rate. The deficit might lead to an abrupt and disorderly adjustment of trade flows and the dollar exchange rate. It not only calls for balanced policies in the US, but also requires for Japan, Europe and other countries, including developing countries to promote robust growth through a deepening of structural reforms. The world should thus decrease its dependence on the US as a source of growth.

The second risk to global stability relates to the seismic waves from the collapse of Enron and the WorldCom scandal, that continue to rip through boardrooms and the stock exchanges across the world. Everyone now agrees that laws against "the infectious greed"—self-dealing insider trading, manipulation of accounting reports and others breaches of fiduciary duties—are essential. The Enron-era scandals show that corporate law should keep pace with underlying changes in the financial world. Also, there is a need to give as much attention to risks and vulnerabilities arising in the so-called advanced economies, as we do to problems in emerging markets and developing countries.

The crisis in Latin America constitutes a third major risk to global stability. During the first part of this year, many observers noted with satisfaction that Argentina's debt default had not infected its neighbours. This optimism now appears to be overstretched. Contagion is back on the international agenda, fuelled by political uncertainty. So far, the IMF has properly differentiated between victims of contagion and uncertainty and countries which are largely responsible for their own predicament. The IMF should not be regarded as the global fire squad that unconditionally comes to rescue when financial crises break out.

The crisis in Latin America setting a new agenda

It is a sad truth that most initiatives to strengthen the international financial architecture to reap the fruits from the on-going liberalization of capital movements have been taken under the pressure of some kind of crisis. The Asian crisis is a case in point, and the same seems to hold for the Enron collapse and the calamity in Latin America. The latter should give birth to at least three new or renewed initiatives. The first is the new framework for debt sustainability as part of the Fund's work in crisis prevention and crisis resolution. This framework is especially valuable as it considers both external and public debt sustainability, employs stress tests to examine the effects of various shocks, and highlights the interlinkages between exchange rate fluctuations and debt dynamics, which reflect a key feature of the situation in Latin America.

The second initiative is the impetus given to the discussion on ways to smooth debt restructuring processes. We welcome the efforts by the IMF to make progress on the specific design of the Sovereign Debt Restructurering Mechanism proposal as well as the promising first results of the work by the G10 deputies to devise new collective action clauses and to encourage their widespread use. This two-track approach also expresses an intention to move away from large financial bail-outs towards better work-outs and needs to be pushed forward.

Third, as with the Asian crisis, the crisis in Latin America has nourished the discussion on the financing role of the IMF in managing financial crises. In the provision of the global public good of financial stability, the IMF has a crucial role to play. Executing this core task should however always be in a close partnership with both countries' authorities and the private sector. Otherwise IMF support might, by absorbing part of the costs of instability, provide incentives for private lenders to underestimate risks—and for national authorities to refrain from adopting policies that provide stability. Not only would it be an illusion to believe that the fire squad of the IMF is to quench all fires, nor should it be considered the sole party to be responsible for all extinguishing water for combating a crisis. Acknowledging this reality would also set a limit to the size of the Fund and would imply a stricter policy with regard to access to IMF facilities. The (improved) Fund is necessary, but not sufficient to promote global stability and prosperity.

Some specific issues of the unfinished agenda of the Asian crisis and the new agenda emerging from the turmoil in Latin America will be elaborated upon in the following sections on crisis prevention and resolution, the size of the Fund and conditionality, with some remaining issues in the final section.

Crisis prevention: an early warning system for unsustainable debts

My constituency applauds the progress made with regard to the FSAP and ROSC initiatives that emerged from the Asian crisis. After having given priority to emerging and transition economies in the FSAP exercise, a shift towards emerging markets and developed countries seems justified in light of the Enron and WorldCom events.1 Also, the time has come to capitalize on the progress in the ROSC process, for example through a stronger marketing of the information on the (observance of) standards and codes among private sector agents. This would contribute to improved country risk assessments, which in turn would lead to a better functioning of international capital markets. Learning from the crisis in Latin America, we strongly support the increased attention in IMF surveillance to debt issues and welcome the framework for debt sustainability assessment. The ongoing integration of markets makes debt sustainability increasingly important to the stability of the international financial system. Debt sustainability analyses should also play a crucial role in future financing decisions. Against this background, we urge the IMF to make such analyses a standard item in regular surveillance. The current crisis cases provide a sad opportunity to test the merits of the infant debt sustainability framework, and the lessons learnt will be useful for its further refinement.

Crisis resolution: it is the exception that proves the rule

The success in managing financial crises in partnership with national authorities and the private sector crucially depends on a clear and consistent official financing policy. We therefore appreciate the discussion on the Fund's access policy in capital account crises. In our view financing in such cases should preferably be channelled through the Supplemental Reserve Facility, which was set up specifically for this purpose, rather than through the regular financing facilities (Standby Arrangement and Extended Fund Facility). Any kind of "facility shopping" should be prevented. We also generally oppose the use of combinations of SBAs and SRFs.

Moreover, exceptional access should remain truly exceptional. Therefore, the conditions for exceptional access should be clearly defined and adhered to. They will help shape the expectations of members and markets and play a useful role in safeguarding the Fund's resources. We would propose the following conditions, which should be jointly met in case of exceptional access in capital account crises: (i) a realistic, transparent and strong adjustment programme, with proven ownership by the country, offering good prospects for regaining market access in a reasonable timeframe; (ii) a high probability that the country's debt remains sustainable; (iii) maximum efforts to involve the private sector in the resolution of the crisis should be made to the extent possible; and (iv) the country concerned should be either the victim or the potential source of contagion. The burden of proof for these conditions lies with the country concerned and the IMF. In addition, the documentation and procedural requirements needed for a request for access above the limits should be strengthened. This implies, inter alia, that adequate documentation, demonstrating that the above mentioned conditions are being met, will have to be provided to the Executive Board well in advance of the actual decision making. Exceptional access decisions should be closely monitored and consistently evaluated ex post.

Quotas: "handle with care"

A strict IMF access policy is based on the principle that the financial support by the Fund is necessary, but not sufficient to promote global stability and prosperity. Albeit crucial, the role of the Fund should not be overestimated. It is the same principle that leads us to the view that at the current junction, a general quota increase is not needed. We note that the Fund's forward capacity to commit resources is favourable and that the IMF is well-equipped to address possible financing requests in the foreseeable future. Moreover, we feel that it would be undesirable to expand the size of the Fund while the pressing issues of PSI and access policy have not been resolved. Indeed, a general quota increase under the current circumstances would run counter to the objective of a more limited financing role for the Fund and might fuel moral hazard.

Beyond the issue of the 12th quota review, on a general note, we believe that individual quotas should adequately represent countries' share in the world economy and the international financial system. The current system of quota formulas performs this complex task relatively well. There may be cases of misrepresentation, but these are mostly due to discrepancies between actual and calculated quotas and cannot be attributed to the formulas themselves. Therefore, the review of the quota formula system requires utmost care so as to ensure that changes to the system do indeed constitute improvements, and do not weaken its logic and robustness. In particular, we feel that any change to the quota system should be consistent with at least three broad principles: (i) the quota system should reflect each countries' openness in both trade and financial terms; (ii) the financial solidity of the Fund should be safeguarded through an emphasis on variables that capture countries' ability to contribute to the Fund's resources; (iii) the adequacy of the system is more important than its simplicity (a system of multiple formulas may therefore be preferable over a one formula approach). We urge the IMF to take these considerations into account in its on-going work on quota formulas. At the same time, there is a need to look into practical ways to enable African countries to participate more effectively in decision making.

Streamlining conditionality and fostering ownership

As noted before, the effectiveness of IMF policies hinges on a fruitful partnership with the private sector as well as authorities of countries it intends to assist. In order to better involve the latter and to promote ownership of IMF-supported programs, the Managing Director initiated the discussion to focus and streamline conditionality some two years ago. Since then, the IMF Board has extensively discussed both the coverage and the modalities of conditionality. However, in a recent assessment, the actual progress in streamlining conditionality in IMF programs appears to have been fairly limited. The number of structural conditions has remained more or less constant and the number of prior actions has even increased in recent programs. As noted in the IMFC communiqué of the Spring Meetings, the time has now come to move forward. Therefore we welcome the adoption by the Board of the revised conditionality guidelines aiming at streamlining conditionality and thereby fostering national ownership.

These new guidelines include a `macro relevance test': structural conditionality should be limited to conditions that are critical for the achievement of the macroeconomic objectives of IMF-supported programs. This will also bring conditionality more in line with the Fund's mandate. Furthermore, we believe it is worthwhile further exploring the feasibility of outcome-based conditionality in IMF-supported programs, i.e. conditions which relate to the achievements of intermediate or final objectives in more aggregate terms, rather than to specific policy measures expected to lead to the program's objectives. This would not only allow national authorities greater flexibility in the design and implementation of adjustment programs, but could also contribute to mitigating the perception of micro-management by the Fund. In this sense, the IMF should be a health advisor rather than a physician prescribing treatment. In addition, we believe that prior actions should be used sparingly and with selectivity. It should be avoided that prior actions are used to subject a member to a sort of `prior program'. As a rule, Fund management should convincingly justify in advance why certain prior actions have to be met. Finally, close collaboration between the IMF and the World Bank is also a key component of streamlining conditionality and promoting ownership. In this respect, we feel that the `lead agency concept' could be made operational by including a `structural policy matrix' in all staff documents, providing an overview of all structural conditions indicating the institution primarily responsible for monitoring each condition.

Other areas of concern

  • Trade liberalization is crucial for stability and growth. There is no example of a developing country experiencing rapid growth without strong integration through trade into the world economy. Trade liberalization is also an important element of crisis prevention, as the experience in Latin America shows, where trade links have lagged behind capital market links, reflected in a too narrow export base. And trade liberalization is a component of crisis resolution to enable countries to export their way out of a recession. We therefore applaud the analysis of trade liberalization in the Outlook, underscoring the vital message that the largest gains from trade liberalization accrue to the countries that liberalize. The removal of trade barriers by industrial countries would therefore not only benefit the developing countries, but is also in the self-interest of countries themselves. We call on all IMF members to be committed to free trade principles and practices, as well as to the WTO-rules.

  • The IMF has a crucial role to play in poor countries through its surveillance, crisis resolution and technical assistance. With the introduction of the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, based on Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, we believe that a growing sense of ownership and a more prominent place for poverty reduction in the government budget and policy debate has been achieved to date. In this respect, we warmly welcome the establishment of two AFRITACs in Africa, and look forward to improved prospects for the lowest-income CIS countries, with technical and financial assistance provided under the CIS-7 Initiative supporting their reform efforts. But, other major challenges still lie ahead. First, more realistic projections of the economic growth rates and developing alternative policy options are aspects which need to be addressed without delay. Second, we would like to urge the Fund and World Bank to be more pro-active in including Poverty and Social Impact Analyses in adjustment programs. Third, the full financing of the HIPC Initiative needs to be ensured. The IMF and World Bank should undertake all necessary efforts to secure that all creditors live up to their promises.

  • We strongly back the international fight against money-laundering and against the financing of terrorism. We support the IMF and the World Bank in contributing to this fight through their surveillance activities, notably the ROSC-process and technical assistance, in collaboration with FATF and FATF-style regional bodies. As agreed, the involvement of both institutions will remain consistent with their respective mandates, competences and modi operandi. The IMF will coordinate the technical assistance efforts in this field. The Netherlands stands ready to support the TA-activities with a financial contribution of € 400,000.

  • We believe that the Independent Evaluation Office plays an important role in further improving the IMF policies. We support the work programme and especially appreciate the external consultations with governments and experts as part of the evaluation process. It indicates that the IMF aspires to be a learning organization that is drawing lessons from crises in order to be better prepared for new threats to global stability.

1We welcome that Japan is undergoing an FSAP. The Netherlands will participate in an FSAP in 2003.