The IMF has a new managing director, Christine Lagarde, France’s (now) former finance minister, to head the global lender as the world’s economy slowly recovers. Lagarde will hit the ground running on July 5, and faces a very full inbox. “The IMF has a lot on its plate and faces an uneven world recovery, the reopening of global imbalances, potentially destabilizing capital flows, high level of unemployment, rising inflation, and difficult country cases,” said Lagarde in her interview for the job with the IMF’s 24-member Executive Board on June 22.
Drug traffickers, diamond smugglers, and terrorists’ financiers around the world have one thing in common: they abuse the financial system to “clean” the proceeds they have obtained from their illegal work, or to transfer funds to achieve their destructive aims. The former is known as money laundering and the latter as terrorist financing. The IMF has worked with countries to combat money laundering and terrorist financing for over 10 years. With the benefit of all this experience, we decided it was time to consider a new, risk-focused approach to add depth to the way we assess money laundering and terrorist financing.
In São Paulo, Brazil last Friday we launched our latest assessment of the state of government finances, debts and deficits. While many countries are slogging through a tough fiscal time, there is some good news, including in the United States ̶ the deficit will be lower this year than previously expected. I will also give you an assessment of how the new information affects our sense of what needs to be done in the future.
It was fitting that I should present our latest assessment of global financial stability in Sao Paulo, the financial center of one of the leading emerging economies. In common with many of its peers in Latin America, Brazil is recovering strongly from the crisis. But new financial stability challenges are emerging in this, and other fast-growing regions. I have three key messages: Financial risks have increased since April Policymakers in both advanced and emerging economies need to step up their efforts to preserve financial stability and safeguard the recovery. We have entered into a new phase of the crisis - a political phase- when tough political decisions will need to be made. Time is of the essence.
Despite a mild slowdown, the global economic recovery continues but the road to health will be a long one. Downside risks, both old and new, are increasing. Our world forecast is 4.3% growth for 2011, and 4.5% for 2012, so down by 0.1% for 2011, and unchanged for 2012, relative to April. This figure hides very different performances for advanced economies on the one hand, and for emerging and developing economies on the other.
Across the world, surging international food prices have become a major cause for concern and topic of debate. This is especially so in the Arab world, which is home to some of the largest food importers and where rising food prices have been one of the factors in recent political unrest. In the context of ongoing political developments, governments across the region are responding to the rise in commodity prices with hikes in fuel and food subsidies, civil service wage and pension increases, additional cash transfers, tax reductions, and other spending increases. These measures will help poor households maintain their purchasing power and limit further increases in domestic food prices.
Last week I travelled to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to participate in a conference on managing capital flows. Organized jointly by the Brazilian authorities and the IMF, the conference brought together experts from both the demand and supply sides of the issue, including many with a wealth of hands-on experience. The discussion was rich and informative. Clearly we still have a lot to learn about the optimal approach to managing capital flows, about the right policy tools, and the right combination of tools. To start with two general, but important observations.
Capital flows emerging Asia should be high on the ‘watch list’ for policymakers in the region. But, perhaps, not in the way we had previously anticipated. Twelve months ago we were keenly attuned to the risks posed by the foreign capital that flooded into Asia from mid-2009 onwards. Now, what we’re seeing is not really all that “exceptional.” With the recent surge, net overall capital flows to emerging have not surpassed the peaks reached in past episodes of large inflows to the region. Of course, that’s not to say it's all blue skies. The nature of inflows is different this time—dominated by portfolio flows—and that poses new challenges and risks for policymakers.
Nemat Shafik, who took over as IMF Deputy Managing Director in April, says she has been surprised by the vigor of internal policy debate at the IMF. “From the outside looking in, you have the impression that the IMF is a monolith with a very single-minded view of the world. When you are inside the Fund, what is really striking is how active the internal debate is,” she says. At a time when the global economy is being buffeted by continued uncertainty in Europe, uprisings in the Middle East, and signs of overheating in some emerging market economies, there’s a lot to discuss. And, it addition to global economic problems, the IMF’s work environment has come under increased scrutiny, in particular how women are treated and its professional code of conduct. In an interview, Ms. Shafik discusses some of these issues.