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A paper victory over the currency protectionists

http://finance.sina.com.cn 2004年02月16日 10:11 新浪财经


七个“重要工业国”中的欧洲国家周末在伯卡莱顿(Boca Raton)的会议上取得了胜利。但是只是纸上的胜利。一方面是因为G7的重要性正在下降,另一方面是G7成员国不愿意,或者说不能够采取必要的措施有所作为。会后发表的联合声明虽然声音洪亮,气势逼人,但作用甚微。

The European members of thesgroupsof seven "leading industrial countries" achieved a victory at the meeting in Boca Raton over the weekend. But it was a victory on paper. This is partly because the G7 is of declining significance and partly because its members are unwilling, or unable, to take the steps needed to make a difference. The communique is full of sound and fury, but signifies little.


The document does appear to be purposive: "We reaffirm," it declares, "that exchange rates should reflect economic fundamentals. Excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates are undesirable for economic growth. . . In this context, we emphasise that more flexibility in exchange rates is desirable for major countries or economic areas that lack such flexibility to promote smooth and widespread adjustments in the international financial system based on market mechanisms (my emphasis)."


For the three members of the G7 from the eurozone, this language rectifies the mistake made in the communique issued after the meeting in Dubai last October. Now it is far clearer that the finger points not at the euro, but at the currencies that lack "flexibility", notably the Asian ones (see chart). The G7 has spoken up for flexible exchange rates all round. But is anybody important listening? The answer, almost certainly, is: no.


It is not hard to understand why the Europeans should be so agitated. Last year, according to forecasts from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, eurozone domestic demand would have expanded GDP by 1.2 per cent, on its own. But the deterioration in net trade, as the euro soared, delivered economic growth of just 0.5 per cent.


Nor is it hard for Europeans to identify the culprits. Between the end of January 2002, when the dollar started to fall briskly, and last October, global foreign currency reserves rose by bn. Of this, bn was accumulated by Asian countries, with Japan's bn, China's bn and Taiwan's bn in the lead (see chart). The global accumulation of foreign currency reserves, predominantly invested in US official obligations, was some 2?per cent of the rest of the world's GDP and 4?per cent of US GDP over the 21 months in question. This must be the biggest "aid" programme of all time, relative to global GDP. It has allowed the US to enjoy both guns and butter, without needing to choose between the two.


With the global currency adjustment thwarted in Asia, it has fallen with full force on those currencies that are allowed to float freely, including the euro (see chart). The eurozone member countries have, as a result, been suffering from the "double whammy" of weak domestic demand and falling global competitiveness.

为什么亚洲国家如此行事呢?去年9月份发表的一篇文章对此作出了最有启发性的诠释*。旧有的布雷顿森林固定汇率体系于1970年代初瓦解。可是,由于亚洲新兴市场经济体以及出于不同原因参与竞争的日本,试图保持具有竞争力的汇率,导致现在又出现了一个修订版的新制度,这便是澳大利亚经济学家马克斯•考登(Max Corden)称为的“汇率保护主义”。正如国家经济研究局(NBER)论文所述的那样,亚洲国家选择了“与战后初期欧洲和日本同样的对外经济战略,低估本币,实行较大程度的外汇干预,对(资本帐户)进行控制,累积外汇储备,鼓励出口导向增长,将商品出口到有强大竞争力的发达国家。”

Why are the Asians behaving in this way? The most illuminating account was put forward in a paper published last September.* The old Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system broke down in the early 1970s. Today, however, a partial new system has emerged as Asian emerging market economies and, for somewhat different reasons, Japan, attempt to preserve competitive exchange rates. This is what the Australian economist Max Corden has called "exchange rate protectionism". As the NBER paper puts it, Asian countries have chosen "the same periphery strategy as immediate post-war Europe and Japan, undervaluing the exchange rate, managing sizeable foreign exchange interventions, imposing controls [on capital], accumulating reserves, and encouraging export-led growth by sending goods to the competitive centre countries."


Let us put to one side the question of whether this is a sensible strategy. The more immediate one is whether and when it might end. Part of the answer is that there can be no reason to expect any of these countries to change their foreign exchange policies merely because they inconvenience Europeans. If non-Japanese Asians and Americans agree on anything it is that moaning Europeans are receiving precisely what their decrepit economies and policy sclerosis deserve. They feel little need to help those who do so little to help themselves.


Asians will change their policies only when the impact of reserve accumulation on the growth of money, credit, inflation and the accumulation of bad debts risks becoming highly adverse. For the Japanese, intervention helps lift the curse of deflation. For the Chinese, consumer prices only rose by 3.2 per cent in the year to last December. Above all, the overriding Chinese objective remains economic growth. Any policy change likely to threaten that will be rejected.


The US could certainly destroy the Asian exchange rate pegs if it wished to do so, as it did with the protectionist "Nixon shock" in 1971. It could do so by imposing trade barriers against Asian exports or by printing dollars, to purchase Asian currencies. But it is most unlikely to do either of these things. Good relations with China are now of geopolitical significance to the US. Moreover, the willingness of Asian countries to keep both US bond prices and the dollar up helps finance the huge borrowing of the US government and households. Unless domestic protectionist sentiment becomes overwhelming, there is no reason for the Americans to attack Asia's mercantilist foreign exchange policies.


Finally, the Europeans could help themselves by joining the intervention club. The managers of a currency under upward pressure can always drive it down, by printing money, but only if they are also prepared to lose domestic monetary control in the process. That is hardly what the European Central Bank is about to do. It could (and should) take a modest step in this direction, by lowering its own interest rates. But, unduly worried by inflation, it seems unwilling to do even that.


The bottom line then is simple. The Europeans may want both a more stable and more competitive exchange rate. But the forces now at work in the world economy - the huge US twin deficits and Asian mercantilism - make their wishes irrelevant. Unless backed by purposeful action, communiques are barely worth the paper they are written on.

*迈克尔•P.多利(Michael P. Dooley)、大卫•富科茨-兰道(David Folkerts-Landau)和彼得•佳宝(Peter Garber):“论修改版的布雷顿森林体系”,国家经济研究局(National Bureau of Economic Research)工作论文9971号,见www.nber.org

* Michael P. Dooley, David Folkerts-Landau and Peter Garber, "An Essay on the Revised Bretton Woods System", Working Paper 9971, National Bureau of Economic Research, www.nber.org





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