Global leaders eye ‘modest rebound’

Bank of England chief Mark Carney speaks at a meeting of IMF and World Bank leaders in Washington. A slowdown in growth is damaging attempts to fight global poverty, the forum was told. (Reuters)
Updated 19 October 2019

Global leaders eye ‘modest rebound’

  • Trade wars dominate discussions among G20 nations as Saudi Arabia begins preparations to chair the group in 2020

WASHINGTON: The world’s finance leaders agree that growth has slowed, but they remain hopeful for a modest rebound next year as long as trade and geopolitical tensions do not worsen.

That was the assessment from finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of 20 major industrial countries.

Those officials met ahead of discussions on Saturday with the policy-setting panels of the 189-nation International Monetary Fund and the its sister lending organization, the World Bank.

The leaders of those two organizations appealed to their member countries on to resolve the widening disagreements on trade, climate change and other issues, warning that the continued diversions threatened to worsen the current global slowdown.

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, the current chair of the G20 finance group, said that while current conditions are less than optimal, there was still hope that conditions will improve.

Speaking after the G20 discussions ended, Aso said: “We broadly agreed that the global economic expansion continues, but its pace remains weak.”

Aso said the group felt that the risks remained weighted to the downside with the major threats coming from trade wars and geopolitical tensions. But he said the expectation was that growth would pick up in 2020.

Japan served as chair of the G20 this year, a position that will be taken by Saudi Arabia in 2020.

The US is represented at the meetings by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

The IMF in its updated economic outlook prepared for this week’s meetings projected the global economy would expand by just 3 percent this year, the weakest showing in a decade, with 90 percent of the globe experiencing a downshift in growth this year. But it is forecasting growth will accelerate slightly to 3.4 percent in 2020, still below the 3.6 percent global growth seen in 2018.

“Trade tensions are now taking a toll on business confidence and investment,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in an opening speech to finance officials on Friday.

Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist who had been the No. 2 official at the World Bank, recognized the accomplishments of her IMF predecessor, Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head that agency. Lagarde was in the audience for the speech.

“As someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, I could never have expected to lead the IMF,” Georgieva said. She noted she had witnessed the devastation of bad economic policies when her mother lost 98 percent of her life savings during a period of hyperinflation in the 1990s in Bulgaria.

World Bank President David Malpass said the slowdown in global growth was hurting efforts to help the 700 million people around the world living in extreme poverty, especially in nations trying to cope with a flood of refugees from regional conflicts.

“Many countries are facing fragility, conflict and violence, making development even more urgent and difficult,” he said.

The fall meetings of the IMF and World Bank meetings were expected to be dominated by the trade disputes triggered by the Trump administration’s get-tough policies aimed at lowering America’s huge trade deficits and boosting US manufacturing jobs. So far, those efforts have made little headway.

In addition to the battle between the US and China, higher US tariffs went into effect Friday on $7.5 billion in European goods coming into the US in a dispute involving airplane subsidies.

Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, said that China probably would be the real winner in the US-EU trade fight. He said the EU was ready to negotiate a settlement to avoid the tariffs but so far, the Trump administration has rejected those efforts.

“From the beginning, we have made it clear that we want to avoid a trade war,” Le Maire said. “The response from the US administration has been a closed door.”

Georgieva said a tentative US-China trade agreement announced last week should lessen the damage to the global economy slightly, but solid global growth would not return until the two countries resolved their differences and all countries moved to modernize the rules of global trade to lessen future disputes.


Japan lower house passes US trade deal to cut tariffs

Updated 21 min 51 sec ago

Japan lower house passes US trade deal to cut tariffs

  • Doubts remain over elimination of car import levies under prime minister’s ‘win-win’ agreement

TOKYO: Japan’s lower house of Parliament approved on Tuesday a limited trade deal Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with the US, clearing the way for tariff cuts next year on items, including US farm goods and Japanese machine tools.

But there is uncertainty over how much progress Japan can make in negotiating the elimination of US tariffs on its cars and car parts, casting doubt on Abe’s assurances the deal he signed with US President Donald Trump was “win-win.”

Japan and the US last month formally signed the limited trade deal to cut tariffs on US farm goods, Japanese machine tools and other products while staving off the threat of higher US car duties.

The government’s proposal to ratify the trade deal will next be brought to the upper house for a vote, but its passage in the powerful lower house increases the chances it will come into force in January.

FASTFACT

Japan and the US last month signed a limited trade deal to cut tariffs on US farm goods, Japanese machine tools and other products .

The deal will give Trump a success he can trumpet to voters, but Abe has said it will bring as much benefit to Japan as to the US.

Japan has estimated the initial deal will boost its economy by about 0.8 percent over the next 10-20 years, when the benefits fully kick in. It also estimated 212.8 billion yen of overall tariffs on Japan’s exports to the US will be reduced.

But the figures were based on the assumption the US would eliminate its tariffs on Japanese autos and auto parts — a major sticking point.

Without those tariff cuts, the reduction in overall US tariffs on Japanese goods would be a little over 10 percent of the government’s projection, according to Japan’s Asahi newspaper and Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.

After the deal is ratified, Japan and the US have four months to consult on further talks, and Trump has said he wants more trade talks with Japan after the initial deal.

But Japanese government sources familiar with the talks say the momentum to negotiate a deeper deal appears to have waned for now with Washington preoccupied with talks
with Beijing.

“It is unclear whether Washington seriously wants to continue trade talks,” one of the sources said.

“The question is how much time the US can allocate for talks with Japan, even if we start negotiations. There is limited time to conclude talks before the presidential elections.”

Japan and the US already appear to have different interpretations of what was agreed on car tariffs.

Japan has said it has received US assurance that it would scrap tariffs on Japanese cars and car parts, and that the only remaining issue was the timing.

But Washington has not confirmed that.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said cars were not included in the agreement, and that it was only Japan’s ambition to discuss car tariffs in the future.

A US document only said customs duties on autos and auto parts “will be subject to further negotiations with respect to the elimination of customs duties.”

“The deal was left vague on the issue of tariff cuts on Japanese auto and auto parts. Otherwise, we couldn’t have reached the agreement,” another source said.

There is also uncertainty on whether Trump will drop threats to impose steep tariffs on Japanese car imports under “Section 232” that gives him authority to do so on national security grounds.

Abe said he had received an assurance from Trump that he would not do that, though analysts say the president could always change his mind, or at least keep Japan guessing.

Opposition parties have attacked Abe for a deal they say is unfair. Critics say Trump could drag
his feet on further negotiations unless he is sure he can win more concessions.

“There is a chance Trump will put pressure on Japan on trade to appeal to his voters,” said Junichi Sugawara, senior research officer at Mizuho Research Institute. “There’s a possibility he could
renew his threat over auto tariffs.”