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Trade wars are the number one risk to the global economy

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The International Monetary Fund said more work is needed to further reduce global trade imbalances amid increasing tensions, while issuing a fresh warning that such conflicts are weighing on the global economy.

“It is imperative that all countries avoid policies that distort trade,” the IMF said in its annual External Sector Report released Wednesday in Washington. “Against a backdrop of escalating trade tensions, greater urgency is needed in tackling persistent excess imbalances.”

The report comes as the Washington-based fund confronts a surge in protectionism around the world that’s seen dragging on global growth, with output slowing in major economies from China to Europe and Mexico. IMF leadership also is in flux with Managing Director Christine Lagarde set to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank.

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While the U.S. trade war with China has cooled with a recent truce and renewed talks, the world’s second-largest economy has slowed amid President Donald Trump’s tariffs. China’s government said this week that the economy eased to the weakest pace since quarterly data began in 1992, highlighting effects of the ongoing trade dispute with the U.S.

“Countries should refrain from using tariffs to target bilateral trade balances, as they are costly for global trade, investment, and growth, and are generally not effective in reducing external imbalances,” the report said.

World Imbalances

Overall current account balances declined marginally from the prior year to 3 per cent of global gross domestic product in 2018, according to the report. Net creditor positions have further increased to about 20 per cent of global output, which the fund called a historical peak that’s four times higher than early-1990s levels.

Higher-than-warranted balances are centred in the euro area, driven by Germany and the Netherlands, as well as other advanced economies such as South Korea and Singapore, according to the IMF. It said balances that are lower-than-warranted are still concentrated in the U.S. and U.K., along with some emerging economies such as Argentina and Indonesia.

China’s balance is in line with fundamentals as its current account surplus has narrowed further, the IMF said, while adding that a lasting external rebalancing requires further reforms and reining in expansionary economic policies.

“Trade risks are the number one risk to the global economy,” IMF’s Chief Economist Gita Gopinath told Bloomberg Television in June. De-escalating those tensions “would do a great deal of good for the global economy.”

Stimulus Ready

David Lipton, the IMF’s acting managing director, on Tuesday urged central banks and other policy makers to be ready with more stimulus if a global economy that’s already slowed by a trade war deteriorates. “All need to be ready in case there is a significant slowdown to respond much more forcefully,” Lipton said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

The fund’s report Wednesday called for “reviving liberalization efforts and modernizing the multilateral rules-based trading system” to better capture e-commerce and trade in services, plus more enforceable World Trade Organization commitments “through a well-functioning WTO dispute settlement system.”

The IMF in April cut its outlook for global growth to the lowest since the financial crisis amid a bleaker outlook in most major advanced economies and signs that higher tariffs are weighing on trade. The IMF forecast the world economy will grow 3.3 per cent this year, less than the 3.5 per cent it had estimated in January. It was the third downgrade to the outlook in six months.

Reports from major economies show trade tensions weighing on global manufacturing. U.K. factory output is shrinking for the first time in almost three years while gauges for China and South Korea remain below the key 50 level. The JPMorgan Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 49.4 in June, the weakest reading in data since mid-2016.

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EU incoming economy chief calls for less restrictive budget policies

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By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) – The European Union needs looser budgetary policies and an overhaul of its fiscal rulebook, the bloc’s designated economics commissioner said in an article published on Sunday.

Writing in Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, Paolo Gentiloni said that while the EU’s deficit and debt rules must not be ignored, they needed to be “reviewed and updated”.

“It’s time for countries which have fiscal space to use it, in an overall context of less restrictive budgetary policies,” Gentiloni, due to replace Pierre Moscovici as economic and financial affairs commissioner on Nov. 1, said.

The former Italian prime minister warned that with the EU economy slowing, “the risks of a prolonged period of low growth must not be overlooked” and the task of stimulating the economy “cannot be left to monetary policy alone”.

Gentiloni will have an important role in scrutinizing Italy’s draft 2020 budget which was submitted to the Commission last week.

The budget plan raises next year’s structural deficit — which excludes the effect of GDP growth fluctuations — by 0.1% of gross domestic product, reversing a previous commitment by Rome to lower it by 0.6%.

EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told Reuters on Friday that Brussels would ask Italy for “clarifications” over its budget intentions.

However, even though the budget seems to flout EU rules, many analysts expect the Commission to take a lenient approach and avoid a prolonged dispute with Rome like the one that broke out last year when Italy had a less EU-friendly government.

Gentiloni, who comes from the pro-Europe Democratic Party which now governs with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, said it was crucial that the budget plan comes from a government that has a constructive approach toward the EU.

Among what he termed new instruments needed help growth and stability, Gentiloni cited an EU-wide unemployment insurance scheme, without going into details.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Canada News Media)

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Lebanese continue protests, demand government to fix economy

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Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Lebanon‘s streets on Sunday for a fourth day of anti-government protests that have led to the resignation of a Christian party from the government.

Demonstrators, who have been on the streets since Thursday, have pledged to continue marching despite the resignations late on Saturday of four government members from the key political party, Lebanese Forces.

Labour Minister Camille Abousleiman, one of the four to quit the government, told Al Jazeera shortly after the decision that they had “lost faith in the government’s ability to effect change and address the problem”.

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Lebanese citizens have been suffering from tax hikes and dire economic conditions in the heavily indebted country.

Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86bn – more than 150 percent of gross domestic product, according to the finance ministry.

The grievances and anger at the government’s lack of solutions erupted into protests on Thursday, sparked by hikes in taxes including a proposed $0.2 tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.

“It is day four and protesters are back on the street. It’s not just in the capital Beirut, but across the country. The message they [protesters] are giving is of defiance and that they will continue to demand the resignation of the government,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut.

“While there are tens of thousands on the street protesting, there are still people who are backing the political parties, so it is not going to be easy to bring a change. These people out there want a nationalist leader whose loyalty is to Lebanon and not a political party.”

In an attempt to appease demonstrators, Lebanon’s finance minister, following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, announced that they had agreed on a final budget that did not include any additional taxes or fees.

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“We want everybody to join us on Sunday and also Monday to topple the government,” one protester said.

On Friday, Hariri gave a 72-hour deadline to his partners in government to agree on a solution to the country’s economic woes without imposing new taxes.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, whose movement is part of the government, warned on Saturday that a change in government would only worsen the situation.

The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property”.

What is the solution to Lebanon’s economic and political crisis?

On Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh al-Solh square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannon to disperse similar crowds a day before.

Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.

“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering – in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.

Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tyres and other obstacles.

The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made on Friday on accusations of theft and arson.

But all of those held at the main police barracks were released on Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Finance Officials Focus on Economy

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The IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, said the threat from trade wars was a chief point of discussion for finance officials.

She said the IMF has estimated that the tariffs already imposed or threatened could shave 0.8% off global growth by the end of next year. Much of that stems from the fallout on business confidence.

In trade wars, “everybody loses,” she said. “Policymakers ought to take very seriously their obligations to international cooperation in trade.”

The World Bank’s president, David Malpass, said this week’s finance discussions had focused on how to address multiple challenges.

“Growth is slowing, investment is sluggish, manufacturing activity is soft and trade is weakening,” he said. “Climate change and fragility are making poor countries more vulnerable.”

He said the World Bank was committed to helping to address these challenges to provide a better life for the 700 million people in the world living in extreme poverty.

The IMF, in an updated economic outlook, projected the global economy would expand by 3% this year, the weakest in a decade, and said 90 percent of the world was experiencing a downshift in growth. But the IMF forecast growth will accelerate slightly to 3.4% in 2020, still below the 3.6% rate in 2018.

Jubilee USA, a religious organization fighting global poverty, said in a statement that while the IMF outlined a number of serious threats, the recommendations for dealing with them fell short.

“Risky investing, trade tensions and developing countries borrowing too much are serious concerns for financial stability,” said Eric LeCompte, the group’s executive director.

While Trump’s trade policies were a prime topic of discussion at the meetings, finance officials for the most part avoided direct criticism of the American president.

Christine Lagarde, who dealt with the Trump administration during her last three years as head of the IMF, was a bit more direct in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Asked about Trump’s trade war with China, she said it would give the world’s economy “a big haircut” and should be resolved by having all parties “sit down like big men, many men in those rooms and put everything on the table, and try to deal bit by bit, piece by piece, so that we have certainty.”

On Trump’s frequent Twitter attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Lagarde said central bankers need to be independent to do their jobs well.

“Market stability should not be the subject of a tweet here or a tweet there. It requires consideration, thinking, quiet and measured and rational decisions,” she said.

Lagarde is scheduled to take over on Nov. 1 as the head of the European Central Bank, which manages monetary policy for the 19 countries who use the euro currency.

(KR)

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