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China pushing for bigger IMF role at G-20

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[September 23, 2009]  BEIJING (AP) -- Beijing is pressing for a bigger voice in the International Monetary Fund and says Group of 20 leaders at their Pittsburgh summit should start making good on promises to give developing countries more IMF votes.

HardwareThe G-20 has agreed in principle but could face an obstacle: European governments, which hold a big share of the IMF board seats and are reluctant to accept changes that might reduce their own status in the IMF.

"For many of them, it's the only way they can do some grandstanding globally," said Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, the center of the 27-nation European Union. "They don't even want to talk about it."

The agenda at the Sept. 24-25 summit includes possible curbs on financial industry pay, joint economic policy and whether to start winding down stimulus spending. But for China, the prize is greater representation in the IMF, which Beijing sees as a way to influence global economic policy. Working through such a multilateral body could help to allay unease abroad about rising Chinese economic and political power.


The change holds symbolic appeal for Beijing, rearranging a global order that dates to World War II and signifying the start of a new era.

By tradition the IMF boss is a European, while an American leads its sister institution, the World Bank. The IMF Executive Board has eight directors from individual governments -- the United States, Japan, France, Britain, Germany, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Sixteen seats are assigned to groups of nations from the Middle East, Caribbean and other regions, many of them represented by a European government such as Ireland or Belgium.

Increasing developing countries' voting power might require cutting the number of European seats or creating joint European Union seats.

Beijing has been unusually assertive in pressing its demands, reflecting its growing confidence as an economy that has suffered little damage from the worst global downturn since the 1930s. Its banks avoided the turmoil that battered Western lenders, it has $2 trillion in foreign reserves and it is expected to be the first economy to recover from the slump.

"We believe the Pittsburgh summit should work toward transferring voting power from developed countries to developing countries," said a deputy governor of China's central bank, Guo Qingping, at a news conference this week.

"At the same time, we hope there will be more members from developing countries in the senior management of the IMF," Guo said. "This will help to increase representation and legitimacy of the senior management."

Beijing wants developing and developed countries to have equal voting shares in the IMF and World Bank, said Zhu Guangyao, a deputy finance minister. Currently, developed countries hold 57 percent of IMF shares and 56 percent of World Bank shares.

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China announced Sept. 2 it would buy the equivalent of $50 billion of the IMF's first bond sale. It is part of the Fund's effort to raise $500 billion for lending to economies battered by the global downturn.

This month in London, G-20 finance ministers reaffirmed the group's promise of reforms at the two institutions. They stopped short of committing to specific changes but said World Bank reforms will be completed by the first half of 2010 and the next IMF quota review -- which decides voting rights -- by January 2011.

In March, EU leaders endorsed IMF reforms to reflect "relative economic weights in the world economy" -- a reference to new economic powers such as China, Brazil and India.

Britain, Germany and France are confident they can retain a leading role. But midsize nations such as the Netherlands, with just 20 million people, and Spain worry about their status.

European politicians know this and have hinted that Europe could help defend its voting share by increasing its contribution to the new IMF lending facility to 125 billion euros ($180 billion) -- or 35 percent of the total.

"Maintaining a significant share would ensure that EU member states' views are adequately represented," German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck and his French counterpart, Christine Lagarde, said in a joint statement this month.


European governments are resistant to accepting a joint EU seat.

"We need to have a European leader who is basically bold enough to overcome this impasse" and persuade Europeans to a reduction in their representation, Gros said. "But before that happens, many years could pass."

[Associated Press; By JOE McDONALD]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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