Leaders of the world’s biggest economies ended four days of talks without taking decisive measures to address the global imbalances that have fueled asset bubbles and risk leading to a protectionist backlash.
Asia-Pacific leaders Saturday in Japan pledged to take “concrete steps” toward creating a regional free-trade agreement without setting a target for achieving that goal. Their meeting followed the Nov. 11-12 Group of 20 summit in Seoul that “opposed protectionist trade actions” while failing to agree on a remedy for trade and investment distortions.
Officials went into the G-20 vowing to reduce global trade friction by agreeing to avoid weakening their currencies to boost exports. Once there, the U.S. and China took turns blaming the other’s foreign exchange policy, with President Barack Obama calling the yuan “undervalued” and Chinese officials saying the Federal Reserve’s monetary easing was undermining the dollar.
“The problem that people really were concerned about, the effects of U.S. monetary policy in terms of capital flows, was barely addressed at all,” said Uwe Parpart, chief economist and strategist for Asia at Cantor Fitzgerald HK Capital Markets. A solution that doesn’t involve China boosting domestic demand and the U.S. increasing savings “deals with symptoms, not the real cause,” he said.
Hu indicated no change in his country’s currency policy in a Nov. 13 speech, adding that pressure for quick reforms “will do no good to international cooperation.” The same day, National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon told reporters that the U.S. wants China to let the yuan rise more before Hu visits Washington in January.
Obama flew home Saturday after a 10-day trip aimed at supporting his goal of doubling exports in five years. He pressed Hu on allowing the yuan to strengthen during an 80- minute meeting on Nov. 11 as China’s record $28 billion trade surplus with the U.S. in August heightened criticism its government maintains an unfair cap on the currency.
The yuan, also known as the renminbi, has risen about 3 percent against the dollar since June 19, when China scrapped its two-year peg. China has $2.65 trillion of foreign currency reserves, more than double any other country.
“The pressure from the U.S. is most likely to result in none too subtle threats about the dollar’s reserve status," Paul
Donovan, deputy head of global economics at UBS AG, said in an e-mail Saturday. ‘‘It is unlikely to speed up the process of renminbi revaluation."
Obama told reporters after the G-20 that the Federal Reserve’s plan to buy an additional $600 billion of Treasuries was designed to boost growth. He said a stronger economy would help the U.S. cut a budget deficit that reached $1.294 trillion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, second only to the $1.415 trillion shortfall in 2009.
The G-20 statement said emerging markets facing a surge of capital inflows can adopt regulatory steps to cope, offering them cover to limit currency swings and stem asset bubbles. Finance ministers from the G-20 will work next year on a set of so-called indicative guidelines designed to identify large economic imbalances and actions needed to fix them, the leaders said in a statement.
‘‘The decision to create a framework is a useful step as it can show the relative significance of individual country imbalances and provide an indication of where adjustments should take place,’’ Philippine central bank Governor Amando Tetangco said in a mobile phone message Saturday.
Leaders of APEC’s 21 economies, which account for more than 50 percent of the global economy and almost 45 percent of its trade, said the region ‘‘is recovering from the recent economic and financial crisis, but uncertainty remains.’’ Echoing the G-20 statement, the group called for greater currency flexibility and warned against volatile movement in the foreign exchange market that can disrupt economic growth.
‘‘We will move toward more market-determined exchange rate systems’’ and ‘‘refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies,’’ the statement said. Advanced countries will be vigilant to ‘‘help mitigate the risk of excessive volatility in capital flows facing some emerging market economies.’’
‘‘The APEC meeting was overshadowed by G-20, where countries were divided over the yuan and other currency policies,’’ said Koji Murata, professor of international relations at Doshisha University in Kyoto. ‘‘The result was vague and lacking substance.’’
The U.S. pushed for the completion of the nine-country Trans-Pacific Partnership by next year’s APEC meeting in Honolulu, Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Saturday in an interview in Yokohama, Japan. That would lay the groundwork for a wider agreement that may include China, he said.
Obama on Nov. 13 said he ‘‘very much welcomed’’ Japan’s interest in joining talks on the TPP, which would be the largest U.S. trade accord since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The talks now include the U.S., Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Brunei, Chile, Vietnam, Peru, and Malaysia.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who favors joining the TPP talks, faces resistance from his own party amid a backlash from farmers who benefit from tariff protection. His Cabinet last week agreed only to begin preliminary discussions on the negotiations.
‘‘We just want to keep our foot to the pedal and see how far we can get to closure by the time we convene next year,’’ Kirk said, adding that five rounds of talks are scheduled for 2011. ‘‘What we are ultimately creating will become the Free- Trade Agreement of the Asia-Pacific.’’
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