Some of the world's major central bankers warned the United States yesterday that the international community could be running out of patience...
LONDON — Some of the world’s major central bankers warned the United States yesterday that the international community could be running out of patience with the massive U.S. budget and trade deficits that have pushed the dollar lower and increased the cost of their exports in America.
But U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said before the official opening of the Group of Seven finance ministers meeting that factors including the weaker dollar and tougher budget discipline in Congress may finally start to restrain the growth of the trade gap.
America’s own campaign to push China to untie its currency from the dollar as quickly as possible appeared to make little headway.
European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet said at a conference of business leaders and government officials that it was unacceptable for developed countries to run long-term current account deficits.
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“The industrialized world as a whole is in deficit, there is a current account deficit, and there is no offsetting of the U.S. current account deficit by the other industrialized countries,” Trichet said.
“That of course means that we are structurally asking the rest of the world to finance us. … It doesn’t seem to me that this is an acceptable and sustainable long-term feature of the present functioning of the global economy.”
The U.S. deficits are expected to be a significant item of discussion during talks today among the ministers from the G-7 nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
The Bush administration has pledged to halve the budget deficit by 2009, but also intends to argue that trade partners concerned about the deficits should be speeding up their own growth and relying less on exports to America.
The U.S. deficits have been a drag on the dollar, putting European and Asian manufacturers who want a slice of the key U.S. consumer market at a disadvantage. The euro rose from about $1.20 in September to a high of $1.3667 at the end of December, and the dollar tumbled from about 111 yen in September to 102 yen toward the end of the year.
While Washington, D.C., insists it has a “strong dollar” policy, many analysts think the U.S. government is content to see the dollar fall because it makes U.S. exports cheaper.
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said the trade and budget deficits and the purchase of large U.S. dollar reserves by Asian countries were combining to cause “global imbalances.” He warned that the situation would improve only when governments agree on the “nature of the risks inherent in current international monetary arrangements.”
Greenspan said a weaker dollar should narrow the deficit by making foreign goods more expensive to American consumers and U.S. exports cheaper for foreigners. One of the reasons that has not happened, he said, is that foreign companies have been willing to take a hit on their profit margins rather than raise prices in the U.S. market.
But Greenspan said there were indications that companies have reached a point where they are no longer willing to absorb the impact of the weaker dollar and will start boosting the price of their goods in America.
“Many other exporters to the United States have exhibited pricing strategies similar to those of European firms,” he said. “Chinese exporters, of course, have not had to address this issue because China continues to hold its renminbi (currency) at a fixed rate against the dollar.”
The United States has been campaigning strongly for China to unhook its currency, the yuan, from the U.S. dollar as soon as possible.
U.S. Treasury Department officials led by John Taylor, the undersecretary for international affairs, pushed their case yesterday during talks with People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and Chinese Finance Minister Jin Renqing.
The United States emphasized that market forces are important and will help China as it grows into the world’s largest developing economy, a senior treasury official said after the talks. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States acknowledged China has taken steps but the United States isn’t yet satisfied.
Zhou, however, hinted in his speech that China will be asking for a reprieve. He did not address the issue directly, but said China needed more time to reform its economy — a position Chinese officials have maintained in advance of the meeting, where China has guest status.
Chinese leaders say they plan to let the yuan trade freely eventually but argue that for now, keeping the currency stable is the best option for the Chinese economy — and by extension, the world economy.
“We know that reforming the financial sector takes time,” Zhou said. “We need time to educate a new generation of bankers.”
China’s pegging of the yuan to the dollar has supercharged its exports as the dollar has declined. Critics contend the yuan is undervalued by as much as 40 percent.
Most observers expect the G-7’s official statement to be little more than a repetition of its communiqué a year ago, when the ministers called for market forces to determine exchange rates.
The G-7 ministers have invited representatives from South Africa, Brazil, India and Russia this year, an indication they are taking seriously criticism that the G-7 is no longer representative of the world’s economy.