WASHINGTON • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that it will freeze its benchmark currency basket until October next year, giving markets more time to adjust to the possible addition of China's yuan as part of a review of global reserve currencies.
The IMF board is scheduled to decide in November whether the yuan will join the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket. Beijing loosened government controls on the yuan this month, allowing its value to fall sharply. The policy shift was seen as a step towards a freer exchange rate, potentially setting the stage for the yuan to become part of the SDR basket.
However, the decision, announced on Wednesday, will defer the implementation of any move to include the yuan. Beijing, keen for its currency to have equal billing with the euro, yen, pound and US dollar, has been pushing for the yuan to be included in the SDR basket, which determines the mix of currencies that countries like Greece receive as IMF disbursements.
To be included in the SDR basket, IMF policymakers must decide the yuan is "freely usable", or widely used to make international payments and widely traded in foreign exchange markets.
Washington has said that it hopes Beijing keeps reforming currency policies and meets the IMF's criteria, but it has not tipped its hand on whether it will back any decision in November to add China.
Currency matters have been a bugbear between the two countries since China devalued the yuan in the 1990s and unleashed a flood of exports to the United States. This month's yuan devaluation could help China's slowing economy but it raised hackles from US manufacturers.
An IMF staff report released earlier this month, which recommended extending the basket, showed that although the currency is increasingly used in cross-border transactions and heavily traded in Asia, it is only thinly traded in North America and is not commonly used in international debt securities.
The report said freezing the current basket, which is due to expire on Dec 31, will give parties more lead time to adjust to any changes.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in March asked IMF managing director Christine Lagarde to push for inclusion, saying that Beijing will speed up the convertibility of the yuan and liberalise cross-border investment rules. Ms Lagarde has said adding the yuan to the basket is a "question of when".