Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The complexity of currency manipulation

A few days ago I had blogged about the possibility of a trade dispute around currency undervaluation to probably be the biggest one in 2013. Though no clear signs of a dispute brewing are evident, murmurs are gradually getting louder on the extent currency manipulation can impact trade. Recent news reports found here and here highlight the growing trend of currency devaluation as a national policy tool. 

This latest Project Syndicate piece titled "Beggar Thy Currency or Thyself" highlights the growing complexity and concern of intentional currency devaluation to serve national agendas.
"In today’s world, no significant group of countries is looking for currency strength. Some resist appreciation actively and openly; others do so in a less visible manner. Only the eurozone seems to accept being on the receiving end of other countries’ actions. 
None of this is unprecedented, and there is a lot of scholarship demonstrating why such beggar-thy-neighbor approaches result in bad collective outcomes. Indeed, multilateral agreements are in place to minimize this risk, including at the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. 
Yet, when push comes to shove, country after country is being dragged into abetting a potentially harmful outcome for the global economy as a whole. Worse, this process has not yet registered seriously on the multilateral policy agenda."
The Economist had this to say on the issue of currency undervaluation in a piece many months ago:
Having spent much of the past year fretting about their currencies' rise, central banks across the emerging world have now intervened in the markets to slow their currencies' fall. In a currency war, where each side fights to gain competitiveness against the others, these tumbling exchange rates presumably count as victories. But they are Pyrrhic. A cheaper real, zloty and rupee will help emerging economies win a bigger share of global spending, but that is small consolation if global spending declines.

The complexity, increasing usage and inevitability of currency manipulations make it central to the debate in the coming years. Questions about what actually constitutes currency undervaluation in the context of trade agreements, what impact it has on national policy making independence as well as the impact it has on trade continue to have many unanswered ends. To what extent countries understand the complexity and engage with the problem is an entirely different question.Will the WTO be the forum for this dialogue?


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