Mon, Feb 11, 2013 - Page 5 News List

‘Currency wars’ back on the international agenda

RACE TO DEVALUATION:France argues that the external value of the euro should not be left to market forces, but Germany and the ECB insist the currency is not overvalued

AFP, PARIS

The strength of the euro, the state of the global monetary system and controversy over a so-called “currency war” will dominate the economic stage at eurozone and G20 ministerial meetings this week.

The currency issue has been revived by Japan and is beginning to cause concern in some quarters in Europe.

France is to raise the issue of the strengthening euro at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers today. Then a meeting of G20 ministers is likely to focus on the big picture in Moscow on Friday and Saturday.

Eurozone finance ministers, meeting as the Eurogroup in Brussels today, hold their first session under new Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands against a background of calmer conditions for their debt crisis.

The main focus of discussion in this meeting is likely to be the rise of the euro: French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici called last week for a debate on the euro’s exchange rate. France is worried that the strengthening euro makes eurozone exports look more expensive and could undermine government efforts to improve the competitive position of French industry and services. The Socialist administration is already grappling with weak growth and a big trade deficit.

France wants the eurozone to arm itself with a policy for the foreign exchange rate. The external value of the euro should not be left to market forces of the moment, French President Francois Hollande has said.

Germany and the European Central Bank (ECB), however, are keen to nip the debate in the bud, arguing that the European currency is not overvalued.

On Thursday last week, ECB President Mario Draghi was cautious about the strength of economic recovery in the eurozone. Many analysts saw his remarks as an attempt to talk down the rise of the euro.

If so, he succeeded: The euro was being quoted at US$1.33 at the end of the week, having risen a few days earlier to the highest level in 14 months and above US$1.37.

The subject is expected to be on the agenda at the end of the week in Moscow, where finance ministers and central bankers from the leading rich and emerging economies, the G20, meet with a Russian as president for the first time.

Rich countries, forced to contain or reduce debt, are injecting huge amounts of money into their economies to support activity.

Leading central banks have used various levers to this end, notably the US. The Japanese government has just convinced its central bank to go down this road in an attempt to arrest a deflationary spiral that has sapped its economy.

However, this use of the monetary lever has had the effect of pushing down the yen. That may be a relief for Japanese industrialists, but it is a problem for countries such as Germany, one of the biggest exporting countries in the world.

For some analysts, the main problem is a lack of coordinated decision-making, running against the spirit of the G20, which is intended to coordinate economic policies around the world.

The Japanese policy is also likely to worry South Korea: Its currency, the won, has risen commensurately against the yen.

This so-called “currency war” now goes beyond the concerns of emerging economies, analysts at ING Investment Management said, commenting that in recent weeks it seems to have reached the developed world.

Draghi warned that if policies elsewhere in the world did not reflect the consensus view of the G20, this fact would have to be discussed. His remarks came after France had called for “serene” debate.

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