IMF chief upbeat on growth but warns against protectionism

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde said governments should steer clear of protectionism.

HONG KONG • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is optimistic on the outlook for global growth but warned that darker clouds are looming due to fading fiscal stimulus and rising interest rates, its managing director Christine Lagarde said yesterday.

In a speech in Hong Kong, she said the top priorities for the global economy are to steer clear of protectionism, guard against financial risk and foster long-term growth.

The IMF chief was speaking as a trade conflict between the United States and China is creating significant uncertainty for businesses and their global supply chains.

"History shows that import restrictions hurt everyone, especially poorer consumers," Ms Lagarde said. "Not only do they lead to more expensive products and more limited choices, but they also prevent trade from playing its essential role in boosting productivity and spreading new technologies."

The best way to tackle global imbalances is to use fiscal tools or structural reforms, she added, and the World Trade Organisation's rules were in danger of being "torn apart", which would be "an inexcusable, collective policy failure".

Policymakers need to commit to a level playing field and resolve disputes without using exceptional measures, she said.

The best way to tackle global imbalances is to use fiscal tools or structural reforms, Ms Christine Lagarde added, and the World Trade Organisation's rules were in danger of being "torn apart", which would be "an inexcusable, collective policy failure".

"There are threats, there are counter-threats, there is an attempt to open a dialogue - we should support that dialogue attempt as much as we can.

"The impact of those threats is minimal on both sides. What is not minimal is the way in which confidence can be undermined."

The reality for 2018 and 2019 is that momentum would eventually slow due to fading fiscal stimulus, rising interest rates and tighter financial conditions, she added.

New analysis by the IMF showed that global debt had reached an all-time high of US$164 trillion (S$215 trillion), 40 per cent higher than in 2007, with China accounting for just over half of that increase.

Ms Lagarde said economies needed to reduce government deficits, strengthen fiscal frameworks and place public debt on a gradual downward path.

"Strengthening financial stability by increasing buffers in corporate and banking sectors is key, especially in large emerging markets such as China and India," the IMF chief added.

Housing markets in major cities worldwide were increasingly moving in tandem, with Ms Lagarde warning that that could amplify any financial and macroeconomic shocks coming from any one country.

Asked about the IMF's view on the Hong Kong dollar's peg to the US dollar, she said the fund believed the pegging mechanism is consistent with the fundamentals of the financial hub's economy.

The Hong Kong dollar was pegged to the greenback in 1983. The peg has forced the former British colony to import ultra-loose monetary policy from the US in recent years, with rock-bottom interest rates in the city having helped to fuel soaring real estate prices.

The IMF chief was speaking after attending the Boao Forum in China, where she said a global economic recovery was taking root.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'IMF chief upbeat on growth but warns against protectionism'. Print Edition | Subscribe