Weak global economy key worry as IMF, World Bank meet

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Advanced and developing countries alike voiced worries over fragile global growth, eurozone stagnation and the swamp of excess monetary liquidity as the IMF and World Bank spring meetings kicked off on Thursday.

Calls continued from multiple fronts for countries to ease harsh austerity programs to boost growth and, at the same time, for the world's central bankers to be more cautious about feeding more money into the financial system, lest it spark new investment bubbles and an inflation outbreak.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde expressed fresh concern over the "three-speed recovery" in the world's largest economies - stagnating Europe and Japan, the sluggish United States, and quicker-moving emerging economies.

That the three groups of countries are moving at distinctly different speeds "is not the healthiest recovery that we could think of," she said.

"What we need is a full-speed global economy."

The IMF meetings opened amid stress and frustration that, as the large economies still have not fully returned to growth after the 2008 financial crisis, small economies remained vulnerable to the continued turbulence.

Finger-pointing about excessive austerity and lack of support for demand, unmanageable capital flows stoked by central banks pumping out money, competitive devaluations, excessive sovereign debt and papered-over banking weaknesses were all in the open ahead of the meetings.

More than four years after the financial crisis battered the globe, "we're still in the process of getting out of the crisis," complained Luis Videgaray Caso, Mexico's finance minister and chairman of the G24 group of emerging and developing countries.

The G24 especially voiced concern about "the negative spillover effects on the emerging and developing countries of prolonged unconventional monetary policies."

Those policies - pumping heavy amounts of monetary liquidity into economies to get them into gear - have the IMF and central bankers themselves nervous and needing to craft "exit strategies" to avoid deeper disruptions.

Ms Lagarde said that, worldwide, central banks have entered "uncharted territory" with their massive monetary stimulus.

Still, Lagarde urged more stimulus for the short term, telling journalists that countries like Spain and the United States could do well to pull back slightly from immediate efforts to shrink their budget deficits, and that the European Central Bank has room to cut interest rates to spur growth.

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said that sentiment to pull back from austerity in Europe was growing.

"Everyone understands now that adding austerity on top of recession would be a serious mistake," he assured.

Little concrete action on the big issues was expected from the IMF and World Bank sessions.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim sought to hold attention to the challenge of poverty alleviation in poorer nations and, as well, the need for more action to battle climate change.

Even though developing countries are growing well relative to the advanced economies, accounting now for half of global growth, he said, there is a wide disparity of conditions among them that allows extreme poverty to persist.

"I have no doubt that the world can end extreme poverty within a generation," he said.

But on the sidelines of the meetings Thursday and Friday, the finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of 20 advanced economies were meeting on some key issues, including advancing efforts to rein in tax evasion and boost banking transparency around the world.

The G20 is expected to weigh endorsing a global effort to force banks to automatically share information with countries seeking to tax their nationals holding secret offshore accounts - an effort that could deal a blow to tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Switzerland and others.

It remained unclear how far the G20 will go. At least the United States and France are said to be hoping for a strong endorsement.

"A door toward the end of banking secrecy is open. It is something extremely important," said Moscovici.