IMF role in spotlight at G20 summit

By Gabriele Steinhauser

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 4 2011 4:35 a.m. MDT

Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia, center, talks with Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a working session at the G20 Summit in Cannes, France, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. Leaders from within the troubled Europe other nations are working Friday in Cannes, on ways the International Monetary Fund could do more to calm Europe's debt crisis.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

CANNES, France — Leaders of the world's biggest economies were scrambling Friday for ways in which they could help Europe ringfence its raging debt crisis without exacerbating their own money troubles.

But as on the first day of their summit, much attention in the swanky seaside town of Cannes in southern France will center on Greece, where Prime Minister George Papandreou faces a confidence vote in Parliament.

The abandonment of the referendum pledge over last week's rescue deal may have eased some market concerns over a disorderly Greek debt default but the country remains mired in a crisis that could see the Socialist government fall and early elections called.

On their final day of their get-together, the leaders of the Group of 20 economies will be looking at ways to boost the firepower of the International Monetary Fund, the institution that was set up as the lender of last resort for struggling governments after World War II.

With their own finances already stretched from bailing out Greece, Ireland and Portugal — and traditional allies like the United States wrestling with their own problems — eurozone countries are looking to the IMF to use its resources and rescue experience to help prevent the debt crisis from spreading to large economies like Italy and Spain.

But within the IMF, the powers have shifted.

Until two years ago, the IMF — dominated by the traditional powers in Europe and the U.S. — mostly applied the painful adjustment programs that are attached to its financial lifelines to poor and emerging economies in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Now, it's growing powers like China, Brazil and South Africa that have to decide whether helping Europe is a worthy investment.

The political turmoil in Greece in recent days and doubts over whether Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi can be trusted to implement promised reform measures meant to revive the country's lackluster economy and bring down its massive debt haven't helped.

But at the same time, the ensuing market turbulence has increased the need for bigger financial safety nets in Europe.

Last week, eurozone leaders decided to boost the firepower of their €440 billion ($606 billion) bailout fund by seeking financing from outside investors. Those additional resources could then be used to buy up bonds from wobbly countries like Italy and Spain and help them and others recapitalize banks hit by the turmoil on the markets.

Yet cash-rich countries like China, Russia and Brazil quickly made clear that any investment from their side would have to be channeled through the IMF. That would ensure that their loans come linked to strict economic conditions and could also give them more influence within the fund.

European Union officials said that one option that has emerged from talks in Cannes over recent days is for the IMF to set up a separate "administrative account" — a sort of trust fund that would be overseen by the fund but not use any of its own resources — that could act alongside the eurozone's own bailout fund.

Another option, an outright increase of the IMF's own resources, was deemed less likely amid strong opposition from the U.S. and other countries, who don't want to risk their own taxpayers' money at a time they are trying to rein in spending.

A third option for bigger IMF involvement would be an overall increase in the IMF's special drawing rights that could then be used to strengthen the eurozone's bailout fund. Special drawing rights are the IMF's own reserve currency, which can be swapped for cash at central banks around the world.

But the officials, who were speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that leaders continued to wrestle over the different options, and that although there was a strong understanding that the G-20 needed to send a confidence-building signal, it was still unclear what option would end up in the final communique.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS