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New Atlanticist April 14, 2024

Our experts decode policymakers’ plans for the global economy at the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings

By Atlantic Council experts

“Fasten your seatbelts,” said International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva at the Atlantic Council, during a curtain-raiser speech for the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings. “At some point, we will be landing.”

But central bank governors and finance ministers who met in Washington this week grappled with more than the question of when their countries will be “landing” after a period of high inflation: They also looked to manage how their countries recover, aiming for a soft landing that avoids recession.

With so much at stake, we dispatched our experts to IMF and World Bank headquarters in Foggy Bottom to decode the institutions’ plans to navigate the turbulence of the global economy.

Final thoughts from Washington, DC

APRIL 20, 2024 | 12:20 PM ET

Dispatch from IMF-World Bank Week: Your cheat sheet on progress made

This week, the world’s finance ministers and central bankers came together in force for the first time since the “Marrakesh miracle,” that was the annual meetings last year—at least in the words of former IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde—which finally resulted in progress on quota reform and a debt restructuring deal for Zambia.

But I doubt this week will go down in history as the “Washington wonder.” Tepid global growth, difficulty recovering from the pandemic (among developing countries), US-China competition (with Washington’s threat of new tariffs), and war cast a long shadow. Still, the officials were able to make real progress on both sides of 19th Street.

Yesterday, my colleague Martin outlined the IMF’s successes: The Fund adjusted its lending policy, allowing it to step in to support countries in debt distress, and called attention to the risks of large fiscal deficits.

But there are, after all, two sides to 19th Street. And on the World Bank side, countries including the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom pledged $11 billion for some of the Bank’s guarantee instruments, which make its programs less risky—and more attractive—for private investors. The added firepower complements restructuring within the Bank to streamline the guarantee system. Hopefully, these changes will encourage private investors to fill countries’ funding needs for the green and digital transitions.

The G20 finance ministers and central bank governors also met this week, with Brazil’s Fernando Haddad giving the group homework: Find agreement on a wealth tax by the time the ministers meet again in Rio de Janeiro in July (the Atlantic Council will be there too).

Later today, as officials and their delegations start heading home, the security barriers will come down and 19th Street will open again. For the ministers, the hard work begins when they get home—and we will be watching closely to analyze whether the financial leaders make meaningful progress before the annual meetings in the fall.

APRIL 20, 2024 | 11:42 AM ET

This week in one word: Clarity

As the spring meetings drew to a close and leaders made their final statements, a few points became clearer.

Even though the global economy can feel hyper-interdependent at times, it is now becoming clearer just how muddled the economy is by divergence, inequality, and fragmentation. “Winners” and “losers” are seeing the economic gaps between them widen. There’s a heightened sense of uncertainty, with the threat of another political, economic, or natural shock looming.

What some may have seen as mission creep in finance—addressing energy transition challenges, the inclusion of gender and youth, and fragility—has become mission critical as macroeconomic stability and growth have become more dependent on, or disrupted by, these factors.

As a result, the timeframe for analysis—and more importantly action—has shrunk as spillovers, impacts, and risks from debt, inflation, conflict, and climate change have brought more urgency. On top of that, fiscal space has tightened, and capital flows stream away from where they are needed most. New research shows that countries in the Global South are paying out more in debt service than they are bringing in grants or loans—to the tune of fifty billion dollars. The United Nations’ annual Financing for Development report, released just before the spring meetings, reveals a more than four-trillion-dollar annual shortfall in funding to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, as I discussed this week with Assistant Secretary General Navid Hanif. 

While the World Bank and IMF have introduced reforms to optimize balance sheets, quotas, and capital adequacy to increase available financing, those changes are necessary but insufficient; that makes the World Bank announcement on Friday (that eleven countries have pledged eleven billion dollars to support the Bank’s hybrid capital and guarantee instruments) a welcome step.

Another thing that is clear after this week: the role regional multilateral development banks and international financial institutions (beyond the Bretton Woods institutions) play in addressing today’s challenges. This role isn’t new; I wrote about their role in COVID-19 response and recovery a few years ago. But there is again a need for private capital and philanthropic funding in a revamped international architecture that meets the moment.

And while more resources are key, it has become even clearer that more consideration needs to be paid to how funds are actually disbursed and delivered. As UN Undersecretary General and UNOPS Executive Director Jorge Moreira da Silva noted in our conversation, more than half of existing IDA funds have yet to be allocated. Furthermore, while analysis and policies are important, implementation matters and warrants additional attention.

Leaders across the global economy must ensure that even as they drive supply, they don’t forget about demand—from bankable projects to business environments, and from building capacity to domestic resource mobilization. This is the macro- and micro-challenge of the road ahead.

APRIL 20, 2024 | 10:03 AM ET

Côte d’Ivoire’s Nialé Kaba on the future of World Bank leadership: Why not an African?

On Thursday, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister of Economy, Planning, and Development Nialé Kaba sat down with Rama Yade, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, to discuss the country’s economic priorities—among them, fostering sustainable growth. The two, conversing in French, spoke at an event that took place at the Atlantic Council’s IMF broadcast studio.

Côte d’Ivoire’s economy is predicted to rank fifth this year among the fastest-growing economies in Africa. Kaba said that the country would continue to make economic reforms to “enhance competitiveness, attractiveness, and economic performance.”

Kaba touched upon the IMF’s support to Côte d’Ivoire, which includes $3.5 billion under the Extended Fund Facility and Extended Credit Facility, in addition to a newly agreed upon 1.3 billion through the Resilience and Sustainability Facility. The minister also noted the importance of reform efforts at the Bretton Woods institutions, pointing to changes in how the IMF and World Bank select their leaders. “Perhaps one day the World Bank could be led by an African. After all, why not?”

Kaba also discussed topics closer to home. On Côte d’Ivoire’s agricultural sector, the minister said she’ll be looking to focus on the “local transformation of our raw materials.” Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading producer of cocoa, and Kaba said there is a need for investors to “settle and employ local labor.”

Touching on more global matters, Yade asked about the relationship between Côte d’Ivoire and China—specifically how a decrease in Chinese investments in Africa would affect the economy. Kaba was clear in her position that while China has been a primary investor, Côte d’Ivoire remains “strongly connected to Europe and also to the United States.”

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APRIL 20, 2024 | 9:28 AM ET

The Polish finance minister on his country’s “U-turn” toward European values

“Poland is back to Europe… we’ve made a ‘U-turn’ from what I call a ‘Hungarian path,’ which is out of the European values,” Andrzej Domański, minister of finance for Poland, argued at an Atlantic Council event on Friday.

Domański gave his remarks in discussing how Poland’s economy—which has proven resilient after avoiding recession in periods of mounting global economic challenges—fits within the greater European economy.

When analyzing the reasons why Poland’s economy recovered relatively quickly after the pandemic and after the initial wave of impacts from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Domański pointed to Poland’s economic diversification. “We don’t have one sector that would be overwhelming the whole economy. I believe this is one of the factors that is behind our resilience.”

Following that, when discussing Poland’s plan for the energy transition, Domański said that Poland can take “two obvious directions: one of them is renewables, and the second one is nuclear energy.”

Domański also discussed the ongoing priorities of the Polish government in further bolstering the economy. On the topic of security, Domański vowed that Poland “will not cut spending on defense” and that it will “will not stop helping [its] Ukrainian friends.”

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APRIL 19, 2024 | 6:03 PM ET

Dispatch from IMF-World Bank Week: What will this week’s legacy be?

There were plenty of reasons for a dour mood to spread across the spring meetings this week.

One such reason is that higher-than-expected inflation readings in the United States dampened expectations of Federal Reserve rate cuts, driving up long-term rates around the world. The Financial Times even spoke of relegating the low-interest period of the 2010s to the dustbin of history. Countries are beginning to realize that they may not have the means to service their debt, support their aging populations, pay for the green transition, help Ukraine, and finance military rearmament all at the same time.

The dour mood was reinforced by the Israel-Iran exchange of direct attacks and Russia’s destructive air campaign in Ukraine. Higher oil prices and further supply-chain disruptions consequently topped the IMF’s downside risks to the forecast. Calls from the Biden administration to triple aluminum and steel tariffs provided a reminder of the risk of future trade conflicts and increasing economic fragmentation.

Less discussed, but similarly mood-souring, was the topic of the stronger dollar, which might have negative consequences for emerging and developing countries with growing fiscal deficits.

The International Monetary and Financial Committee chair released a statement today that was among the most bland in recent history, repeating well-known positions about the IMF’s role in the global economy and committing to the implementation of recent decisions, but falling well short of new initiatives.

But when determining this week’s legacy, there are reasons for a better mood to prevail. The IMF did propose a tweak to its debt policies, allowing the Fund to lend to countries even if they’re still in debt restructuring negotiations with big bilateral creditors (think China). The IMF also, in its World Economic Outlook, finally zeroed in on the “significant risks” that large countries’ fiscal deficits pose to the global economy. And there are signs of momentum ahead: Liechtenstein is on track to join the IMF as member number 191, in a year marking the eightieth anniversary of the Bretton Woods institutions. Whatever mood the delegates are in when they depart Washington, their work will carry on.

APRIL 19, 2024 | 9:28 AM ET

Paolo Gentiloni on how the war in Ukraine is impacting Europe—and how the EU can help fill Kyiv’s “financial gap”

In a discussion at the Atlantic Council on Thursday, Paolo Gentiloni, the European Commissioner for Economy, expressed a surprisingly positive outlook about the European economy, as the European Union (EU) continues to face post-pandemic and security challenges. 

In discussing the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook, which slightly downgraded forecasts for the eurozone, the former Italian prime minister said he sees “the conditions for an acceleration of the economic activity for the second part of this year, and probably more in 2025.” His conviction rests, he said, on “better-than-expected” declining inflation, shared “strong labor markets” across the Atlantic, and an increase in purchasing power in several European countries “not impacting inflation, but consumption, which would trigger a better level of growth.” The EU’s goal was ultimately to “avoid a recession and major energy crises.”  

When assessing Europe’s economic-rebound prospects, Gentiloni urged to not “compare the impact of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, in Europe, with other parts of the world,” highlighting its disproportionate impact on “Europe and the Global South.” Russia’s invasion “disrupted part of the European business model” reliant on “cheap gas” and exports, which particularly affects Europe’s largest economy, Germany. The geopolitical risk remains “the largest risk” threatening Europe, he said, while there is no “substantial risk from a financial stability point of view” or “divergences in level of growth among different European countries.” Gentiloni said he is “quite optimistic that [Europe is] out of the most difficult part” of its “economic situation.” 

Amid the growing debate about Europe’s future competitiveness, Gentiloni said that the topic fits into wider discussions on “how the model we built the European Union [on] in the last decades should be probably transformed.” To achieve its ambitions, Europe must “find common funding” beyond the NextGenerationEU (which is expiring in 2026) to further attract private investments and complete the green transition, “avoiding the idea that slowing down or taking a different direction will solve our problems, because the global competition on clean tech is there,” Gentiloni said.  

Drawing on a quote from former European Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Gentiloni remarked how “the EU cannot be the only herbivore in a world of carnivores” and argued that the “solution is to compensate economically, socially those that are most affected and to win the battle of the cultural narratives.”

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APRIL 19, 2024 | 9:02 AM ET

Is the global financial system fit for climate change?

We know what the future is set to look like: By 2040, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we will be living in a 1.5 degrees warmer world, with consequences that are already being predicted by science. That’ll be the case unless extraordinary action is taken.

The private sector is now waking up to this reality. Industry is beginning to recognize that climate risks raise financial risks. Homeowners are finding it harder to insure their houses. Water levels are rising, disrupting ports that play a large role in the global economy. Outdoor workers cannot work safely in heat waves, which are striking with alarming frequency.

The economic costs of inaction cannot be postponed and passed on to future generations.

There must be a new ambition for adaptation and resilience finance. Currently, progress on catalyzing investments in climate solutions is often slow and scattered, and it also often lacks scale. The solution: Redefining the economic and financial order.

To begin imagining what that new order should look like, we sat down with climate finance experts, who helped us spread our Call for Collaboration between the public and private sectors that we launched at COP28 last year. Catch up on that conversation, held on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings, below.

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APRIL 19 2024 | 7:04 AM ET

The South African finance minister’s plans to champion an African perspective during its 2025 G20 presidency

South African Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana joined the Atlantic Council’s IMF Broadcast studios on Wednesday to outline his country’s economic priorities, including its vision for the Group of Twenty (G20) agenda during its presidency in 2025.

In the conversation with Atlantic Council Africa Center Senior Director Rama Yade, Godongwana said that South Africa is focused on being not the biggest economy but the strongest. “What we must focus on is that we are the most industrialized economy on the African continent, and to what extent we can build on that, to build competencies, that makes us the strongest economy on the African continent,” he said. Sharing his optimism about economic growth on the African continent, Godongwana cautioned that a slowdown in growth in South Africa’s trade partners, such as China, may lead to a spillover effect not only on South Africa’s economy but that of the South African Development Community region.

Regarding South Africa’s upcoming presidency of the G20, the minister said that South Africa is developing an agenda that will include some of Brazil’s current priorities—and others from previous presidencies—and that South Africa “will inject an African perspective into that agenda” after consultation with countries on the African continent.

Turning to South Africa’s membership and ambition within the BRICS group, the G20, and the IMF and World Bank, the minister argued that there is no tension for South Africa within these groupings, but that they have been helpful in addressing challenges that the country faces. Responding to a question about a possible BRICS currency, the minister stated that there “is no document from the BRICS that talks about a BRICS currency in our declarations.” Godongwana stated that there is a push, regionally in Southern Africa and within the BRICS, to accept local currencies and to use alternative payment systems beyond the dollar when conducting international trade. But BRICS, he said, is not about undermining the current system—but changes in the current system are needed.

Speaking during the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings, Godongwana discussed reforms he’d like to see the Bretton Woods institutions make, including governance and funding changes at the IMF and the World Bank. The minister argued for a change in the selection of heads of the IMF and World Bank and called for non-American and non-European candidates to be considered for the top leadership positions of the organizations. Speaking to investors, Godongwana stated that he welcomed investment into South Africa and the African continent that respected countries’ sovereignty and geopolitical strategies.

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APRIL 19, 2024 | 6:28 AM ET

“Congo is open for business,” argues DRC Minister of Finance Nicolas Kazadi

DRC Finance Minister Nicolas Kazadi joined the Atlantic Council’s IMF broadcast studios on Wednesday to outline his country’s economic priorities, including its intent to create more opportunities for investment.

Kazadi argued that “Congo is open for business” and “the mining sector specifically is driven by foreign investment.” In March this year, the Congolese government began to implement a 2017 law requiring all subcontracting companies to be majority Congolese-owned. The minister explained that while Congo encourages investment, the country wants to ensure that private investors share the prosperity with local partners and build local capacity. “We don’t even need a law for that, it is a matter of principle” to help local Congolese businesses grow, argued Kazadi.

In the mining sector, the finance minister said that Congo is looking for investments along the full energy value chain, “trying to raise awareness in our youth, support them as they invest in the ecosystem that we are trying to build in partnership with the big private sector,” he said. Kazadi said that “Congo is trying to bring more transparency along the value chain to raise the standards” to avoid situations in which products do not meet international environmental, social, or governance standards that can impact the image and business environment of the country. He said that he hoped companies working in the Congo would help charge a “local transformation of critical minerals” that would change the economy “completely,” bringing the gross domestic product “from billions to trillions,” he said.

Speaking during the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings, Kazadi discussed Congo’s upcoming sixth review of its Extended Credit Facility program and reforms he’d like to see the Bretton Woods Institutions make, including changes to the channeling of Special Drawing Rights. He expressed a readiness to work with international financial institutions on addressing the development challenges facing his country.

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APRIL 18, 2024 | 6:34 PM ET

Dispatch from IMF-World Bank Week: The issues we haven’t heard about—yet

IMF headquarters was abuzz today following the announcement of Managing Director KristaIina Georgieva’s new global policy agenda, outlining the economic challenges of the day and what the IMF plans to do about them.

The three priorities she chose for the Fund to tackle: rebuilding fiscal buffers, after public debt edged upward to 93 percent of GDP; reviving medium-term growth, which has deteriorated since the global financial crisis; and renewing its commitment to its members, with more quota resources to go around.

All of the above are worthwhile things to do. But, at least from where I was watching in the IMF HQ1 Atrium, Georgieva didn’t seem to mention anything about two of the most pressing issues of the day when she presented the global policy agenda this morning.

The first issue is China’s industrial overcapacity and its global impacts. The EU has launched or is expected to soon launch anti-subsidy investigations looking into Chinese electric vehicleswind turbines, and medical devices. But the news that really spread like wildfire at the spring meetings was that, just a couple blocks away, the White House announced an investigation into China’s shipbuilding practices. President Joe Biden also called for tripling tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum products, the starting gun for more protectionist measures to come—and a major risk to global growth.

The second issue is the divergent monetary policies being put forth by the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, pushing up the dollar’s value in foreign-exchange markets. The topic did come up during the G20 press conference following the group’s meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors today. A strong dollar will undermine low-income countries’ growth prospects—something the IMF must pay attention to.

The silence on these risks to global growth shows the Fund should pay more attention to the issues at the core of its mandate to coordinate members’ economic policies as they are being shaped and implemented. Doing so early—rather than reactively helping countries deal with the fallout of poor international cooperation—would avoid negative spillovers on the global economy.

APRIL 18, 2024 | 11:16 AM ET

European Investment Bank president urges multilateral cooperation on Ukraine’s reconstruction and climate financing

On Thursday, Nadia Calviño—who this year took over as president of the European Investment Bank (EIB)—spoke to the Atlantic Council at the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings, where she talked about the EIB’s priorities, including encouraging investment in Ukraine for reconstruction, rallying climate financing, and helping the European Union achieve its strategic priorities.

Calviño explained that the EIB is working with other multilateral institutions and with local Ukrainian partners to identify Kyiv’s rebuilding priorities—including infrastructure projects and support to small and medium-sized enterprises—to “make the most of Europe’s money.” She added that the EIB is working with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, and the United Nations Development Programme to ensure that “the experts that are on the ground are providing the most efficient service… to all of us.”

Calviño said that the EIB is proud to have garnered a reputation as “the climate bank,” with over 50 percent of its investments being in green projects and having supported the development of innovative technologies. “The green agenda is really ingrained in everything we do, inside and outside the EU,” she said. She argued that the investments being made in less-developed countries were strategic in nature and critical for Europe’s future priorities.

Calviño additionally said that there’s a sense of a “shared responsibility” across the Global North in addressing climate financing needs and deconflicting those efforts. She added that a North-South dialogue is “very important” and “needs to be accompanied by facts, not just words.”

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APRIL 18, 2024 | 10:39 AM ET

“The role that digitalization plays for Ukraine, especially now, is critical,” says Olga Zykova

In the bustling IMF headquarters on Tuesday, I sat down with Ukrainian Deputy Finance Minister Olga Zykova to talk about the role of digital development in post-war reconstruction.

Ukraine had been busy taking many of its public services digital, even before the outbreak of the war in 2022. Zykova, who became deputy finance minister a few months into the war, told me that Ukrainian citizens have used technologies, such as the Diia app, to do everything from travel to access healthcare to buy war bonds for financing. She told me (and also Candace Kelly from the Stellar Development Foundation and Kay McGowan from Digital Impact Alliance, who also joined the expert panel) that she believes Ukraine’s efforts can be a successful example for other war-torn economies looking to rebuild their digital infrastructure.

The conversation then turned to the importance of open-source infrastructure, as the panelists discussed the collaborative advantages of open-source technological solutions which can provide developers the flexibility to adapt technologies to fit their needs across countries and situations.

We also discussed the need for a robust evaluation and impact assessment of the funding of these programs and the technologies themselves, to ensure that they reach their full potential. This call for robust impact metrics has been a consistent theme of this week, echoed by multilateral development banks, the private sector, and civil society.

Zykova also outlined Ukraine’s priorities for the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings, calling for the creation of a sustained plan to equip Ukraine with the means to meet its reconstruction demands. She encouraged countries to not lose focus, even with lingering uncertainties about funding in Ukraine, and reiterated the importance of building resilient networks as the EU approaches its elections.

Reconstruction in Ukraine represents many of the existential questions ahead for the World Bank and IMF this decade—how to shore up democratic resilience, build consensus across an increasingly fracturing global order, and use technology to reduce inequality and achieve lasting prosperity.

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APRIL 18, 2024 | 9:24 AM ET

The Global South’s reform agenda for the IMF and World Bank

International media has until now paid little attention to statements of the Group of Twenty-Four (G24). The committee represents developing countries within the IMF and World Bank, playing a similar role to the Group of Seventy-Seven, a coalition of developing countries that comes together at UN gatherings. As Global South countries have become more vocal in their demand for reforms of the Bretton Woods institutions, the G24’s statements have become more important. The group should be considered counterparts to the Group of Seven (G7) in discussions about changes, especially in the context of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC)—an important body in the governance of the IMF.

On April 16, the G24 met and issued a communiqué summarizing the positions of developing countries on many issues on the reform agenda.

Regarding the IMF:

  • The G24 welcomed the equi-proportional increase in quota but stressed the need for a quota realignment to reflect involving realities of members. (Developing countries in aggregate have increased their weight in the global economy but feel underrepresented in the Fund’s quota and voting-share distribution.)
  • It urged the Fund to eliminate the surcharge on its base lending rate which has resulted in high borrowing costs to members in need of substantial IMF support.
  • It proposed considering sales of IMF gold to increase the financial resources of concessional lending facilities such as the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility.

Regarding the World Bank:

  • The G24 acknowledged the Bank’s efforts in implementing the Evolution Roadmap, sponsored by the Group of Twenty to optimize its balance sheets and increase its financing capability and efficiency.
  • However, the G24 cautioned that the commitment to allocate 45 percent of annual financing to climate-related projects should not be at the expense of financing for basic development challenges like combating poverty and hunger.
  • It called for a capital increase for the World Bank and multilateral development banks in general—especially a strong replenishment of the resources of the International Development Association (providing grants and low-interest loans to low-income countries) in its twenty-first round of funding, which is currently underway.

In the view of many in developed countries, the demands articulated by the G24 may resemble a wish list containing many items difficult to command sufficient agreement to be adopted—for example, the quota reform. Nevertheless, developed countries should take these demands seriously and engage constructively with developing countries to find a reasonable way forward. Failure to do so would undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of the IMF and World Bank—institutions that should play important roles in sustaining global growth and supporting less-developed countries.


APRIL 17, 2024 | 7:28 PM ET

Dispatch from IMF-World Bank Week: A tale of two headquarters

In many ways, the story on day three of these spring meetings feels like a tale of two headquarters: Both style and substance differ between the boisterous World Bank on one side of 19th Street and the more buttoned-up IMF on the other.

The Bank’s atrium has been decorated with hundreds of colorful drawings by staff members’ children, depicting a “livable planet”—the newly added objective to the Bank’s vision statement. The Fund’s atrium, on the other hand, hosts an interactive “let’s grow together” board where delegates can affix stickers to the types of training and institutional strengthening they need. Both spaces strive to inspire and provoke thought, but the vibes are quite different.

Substantively, the Bank is abuzz with chatter about its “evolution,” touting progress such as a new guarantee platform, the corporate scorecard, and the series of reforms initiated last year to improve its impact. People at World Bank HQ are also energetically making the case that the Bank’s “money and knowledge” are vitally needed now, as a “great reversal” in development—explained in a new report—has resulted in one in three low-income countries becoming poorer than they were on the eve of the pandemic.

At the Fund, it’s about “resilience amid divergence” (as I discussed this afternoon with my fellow World Economic Outlook ‘decoders’ from the Atlantic Council): cautiously celebrating the fact that better-than-expected resilience in the US economy, coupled with stronger labor markets and cooling inflation in many places, is driving steady global growth. But that celebration doesn’t paper over the fact that debt, higher-for-longer interest rates, and conflict are undermining growth and impeding recovery in many developing countries.

Where Bankers, Funders, delegates, and guests seem to be speaking the same language is around “leverage” (the need to use the Bretton Woods institutions’ funding to crowd in additional financing) and “demographics” (with certain population trends raising macroeconomic and social-development pressures and opportunities, which I’ll be talking about at the IMF on Friday).

PS: If you’re wondering which of the headquarters has the better store for some spring meetings swag, it’s the World Bank’s.

APRIL 17, 2024 | 3:28 PM ET

Mixed developments on sovereign debt restructuring

This was a big week for those working to help vulnerable middle- and low-income countries overcome debt crises. For years now, there has been a slow-moving discussion about how to improve the framework for sovereign debt restructuring. And on that front, there has been both good news and bad news in recent days.

First, the good news: Three years or so since Zambia defaulted on its international bonds, it has just reached a restructuring deal with its bondholders which has been accepted by the official bilateral creditors. However, Zambia is not out of the woods yet. It still has to negotiate debt deals with its commercial creditors—basically international banks including many Chinese stated-owned banks such as the China Development Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, etc. It is not clear if this problem will hold up the actual implementation of the agreed debt restructuring measures—highlighting the complexity of the sovereign debt restructuring process.

The second piece of good news is that the IMF Executive Board has just approved some adjustments to the Fund’s Lending into Official Arrears (LIOA) policy—basically allowing the Fund to lend to a member in distress even though that member is in arrear in servicing its debt to an official bilateral creditor. The just-approved adjustments would give the Fund more flexibility in making use of the LIOA policy when a creditor country (i.e. China) has not been forthcoming in the restructuring process, delaying its timely conclusion. The key outstanding question is whether a low-income debtor country would be prepared to go along with the idea of activating the LIOA vis-à-vis China—especially those who have relied on China for trade and investment via the Belt and Road Initiative.

Then there’s the bad news. A piece of proposed legislation is moving through the New York State Legislature that would amend the state’s creditor and debtor law. Basically, the amendments would unilaterally impose a restructuring regime, for example compelling bondholders to accept a restructuring deal managed by an overseer appointed by the governor of the state of New York. As about half of international sovereign bonds have been issued under New York law, and the other half under English law, this legislation would, if passed and implemented, introduce a huge element of uncertainty to the sovereign bond market. It could potentially disrupt its smooth functioning and raise borrowing costs for emerging market and developing countries. And it could short circuit international efforts, such as the G20-sponsored Common Framework and the Sovereign Debt Roundtable, which are trying to develop international agreements to improve the sovereign debt restructuring framework.

All three stories highlight the complexity of debt restructuring negotiations. But the summary of the week’s news on that front: two steps forward, one step back.

APRIL 17, 2024 | 2:38 PM ET

The Spanish minister for economy outlines his country’s economic trajectory—including a predicted 20 percent drop in its debt-to-GDP ratio

Spain is positioning itself as a “growth engine” in the eurozone, argued Spanish Minister of Economy, Trade, and Business Carlos Cuerpo.

He said that in 2023, Spain “grew five times the euro area average.” That, coupled with his prediction of a 20 percent drop in the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio (with respect to the peak post-pandemic), “[configures] a good way forward” for Spain, Cuerpo said, with sustainable growth likely ahead in the medium term.

Cuerpo said that Spain is hopeful about its economic prospects, as foreign direct investment has grown, indicating “confidence of world investors in the Spanish economy.”

Cuerpo spoke with GeoEconomics Center Senior Director Josh Lipsky at Atlantic Council headquarters during the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings. They discussed Spain’s path forward utilizing NextGenerationEU funds and its role in the conceptualization of new EU fiscal rules. Cuerpo reflected on the transformation of primary themes of discussion over the EU’s fiscal rules, beginning with the green transition, pivoting to strategic autonomy, and now focusing on economic security. “There is a common denominator [within] those discussions, which is the need for investment,” he said.

Cuerpo pointed to Spanish investment in green hydrogen, semiconductors, and battery-related initiatives through the NextGenEU funds. A midterm evaluation from the European Commission found that the Spanish GDP level increased by 1.9 percentage points in 2022, when compared with a hypothetical Spanish economy without the NextGenEU funds present. “It’s not just an opportunity for the Spanish economy,” Cuerpo said. “The impact of the plan is already a reality.”

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APRIL 17, 2024 | 1:15 PM ET

Despite the IMF’s revised growth forecast for Russia, the Russian economy is not doing well

You’ve heard it before. Gross domestic product, or GDP, is not the best indicator to understand Russia’s economic performance under sanctions. Nor is the exchange rate. Yet, the IMF’s decision this week to revise Russia’s growth forecast for this year upwards to 3.2 percent after another upward revision in January is one of the most talked-about findings of the World Economic Outlook. And while the widening fiscal deficit and rapid inflation remind us that the Russian economy is still under strain, it’s important to acknowledge that, at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, sanctions policymakers thought they could reasonably hope to plunge Russia into a prolonged recession. And in April last year, when the IMF predicted the Russian economy would grow in 2023, most thought this was wrong, but it did indeed grow by 3 percent.

How are they pulling this off? It’s not just about oil and gas export income, though higher oil prices help. Combined disclosed and undisclosed military and domestic security spending exceeds 30 percent of GDP—and therefore represents a major boon for overall GDP figures. The Ministry of Finance had to reach into its savings more than expected at the end of 2023, taking the liquid part of the National Wealth Fund down from $150 billion to $130 billion. The weak exchange rate and labor shortages are also working together to keep inflation very high, at almost 8 percent.

It’s wrong to say the Russian economy is doing well. The problem is that it has enough resources to keep funding the war.

APRIL 17, 2024 | 11:52 AM ET

Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb outlines Pakistan’s path to economic reform and stability

On Monday, Pakistani Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb emphasized the country’s need for structural reforms over a span of two to three years. In an Atlantic Council conversation with the South Asia Center’s Kapil Sharma, Aurangzeb outlined Pakistan’s strategy, arguing that efforts shouldn’t merely focus on financial stabilization: They should also lend focus to sustainable growth and inclusivity. 

“The crux of our strategy with the IMF involves not just temporary relief but laying the groundwork for enduring stability and economic resilience,” Aurangzeb said. He underlined the importance of understanding and implementing long-term policies that have been on the nation’s agenda for decades. The minister argued that the time for action on these reforms is now, especially with the looming end of Pakistan’s three-billion-dollar Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF, currently set for late April. 

Pakistan reportedly intends to ask for a larger and extended program from the IMF to support its economic reforms. To that end, Aurangzeb argued that when it comes to these economic reforms, Pakistan doesn’t need more policy prescriptions: It needs implementation. 

“Ensuring macroeconomic stability is not merely about stabilization; it’s fundamentally about inclusive growth and addressing climate impacts,” said Aurangzeb. He noted that the financial and structural reforms would help Pakistan mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and promote financial inclusivity, especially among vulnerable groups, including women. 

Watch the full event 

APRIL 17, 2024 | 10:17 AM

Back to the basics: High turnover rates for central bank governors do not help with inflation

Inflation is front and center at the spring meetings. Reducing it is crucial for any inclusive growth and development strategy because, after all, inflation is a regressive tax on the poor, who lack the real assets to effectively hedge against inflation.  

While the global median headline inflation has declined to 2.8 percent in 2024 and many central banks have been successful in their fight against inflation—particularly the Federal Reserve (known as the Fed), Bank of England (BoE), and European Central Bank (ECB)—many developing and emerging economies are still suffering from high inflation rates, sometimes with rates higher than 20 percent. Several factors continue to contribute to these rates: rising energy and food prices; increasing sovereign debts; higher policy rates in the ECB, UK, and Fed (and thus larger capital inflows to these economies); and growing budget deficits—partly because of the higher cost of energy and of servicing debt due to higher interest rates.

An often ignored but equally or even more important factor is the independence and reputation of central banks. While the majority of countries suffering from inflation rates higher than 20 percent claim that their central banks are independent and their policies are not influenced or dictated by their central governments, in practice the so-called “independence” of these central banks is severely undermined by the high turnover rates of their top bosses.

Available data suggests that over the past decade, the median tenure of a central bank governor or president in the twenty economies with the highest inflation rates has been a mere two years. Over the past ten years, a number of central bank governors have come and gone: Seven in Argentina, eight in Turkey, six in Venezuela, and five in Iran. Just to put this in perspective, during the same period, the median tenure of the leadership in the Fed, ECB, BoE, and Bank of Japan has been five years, and these institutions have each changed leadership only once in the past decade.  

Such a high turnover rate for the central bank leadership is a clear sign of its lack of independence. It also severely undermines the most important asset of a central bank: its reputation and credibility. Economic actors, markets, and consumers in an economy look to the central bank and its leadership for direction on the future of the economy and directly equate high turnover in a central bank leadership to policy uncertainty, demolishing the reputation and policy credibility of a central bank. A central bank lacking reputation and credibility is like a chef without a kitchen.

In fighting inflation, it’ll be important to go back to the basics: religiously protecting the reputation and independence of central banks and aggressively rebuilding any losses on these fronts. After all, reputation is extremely hard to build but very easy to lose. And that is the most important tool a central bank has to fight inflation.

APRIL 17, 2024 | 8:21 AM ET

Spooking the spirit of Bretton Woods

It was supposed to be a week of multilateralism, breaking down barriers between borders, and preventing “fragmentation” (as the IMF often likes to say). But the United States had different ideas.

Following US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s recent trip to China where she hammered home the risk of Chinese manufacturing overcapacity, the Biden administration today called for a tripling of tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. As if that wasn’t enough, the Office of the United States Trade Representative is beginning an investigation into Chinese unfair trade practices on shipbuilding and maritime logistics, per a White House announcement this morning.

Couple this with the European Union’s ongoing anti-dumping investigation on Chinese electric vehicles (as we’ll discuss with EU Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni tomorrow), and suddenly the spirit of Bretton Woods is looking a little spooked. That’s one reason why the understated warning in the IMF’s World Economic Outlook yesterday about downside risks may already feel out of date.


APRIL 16, 2024 | 7:24 PM ET

What the World Economic Outlook left out

The just-released World Economic Outlook (WEO) has a nice subtitle that sums up very well its key messages—”steady but slow: resilience and divergence.” Resilient because economic activity in advanced countries has been solid and precipitated a 0.2 percentage point upgrade in the IMF’s growth forecast, to 1.7 percent this year. Divergent because low-income countries (LICs) have had their growth estimates cut by 0.2 percentage points to 4.7 percent this year. They have absorbed most of the $3.3 trillion loss in global economic output relative to the pre-COVID trend. They’ve also built up onerous levels of debt so that many are in debt distress and now have to use more than 14 percent of their government budget to pay interest, crowding out other important and necessary expenditures.

Unfortunately, the outlook for the LICs looks to be even worse than the WEO’s forecast, thanks to the Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend, as well as recent upticks in US inflation data.

Going forward, the heightened risk of war following Iran’s direct attack on Israel will likely keep oil prices elevated, having risen by some 12 percent since the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, higher-than-expected inflation will delay any easing by the Federal Reserve. That has caused a renewed uptick for the dollar. The combination of elevated oil prices and a strong dollar is bad for many countries, but it is particularly devastating for LICs because most LICs have to import oil—so high oil prices coupled with a depreciating currency against the dollar represent a double whammy, undermining growth. Also hurting LICs is the fact that a strong dollar increases their debt and debt servicing burdens, and it also tends to trigger capital outflow exacerbating the stress.

These two news events will push LICs even further behind in the convergence process. In short, global economic disparities will likely increase with unfavorable social implications for the world. The WEO has not paid sufficient attention to this risk.

Watch more

APRIL 16, 2024 | 6:43 PM ET

What should be done with Russia’s blocked reserves?

Since February 2022, Western sanctions have blocked roughly $300 billion in Russian reserves. Thanks to high interest rates, these reserves have been generating income for their custodians, the largest of which is Belgium-based company Euroclear. The question Group of Seven (G7) members will be discussing this week is how to use that interest income.

Bloomberg’s Viktoria Dendrinou and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Brad Setser joined the Atlantic Council GeoEconomics Center’s Charles Lichfield to compare the two primary proposals: 1) Tax almost all the interest income and use the windfall as a funding source for Ukraine or 2) pull forward some of the interest income stream to provide funding more quickly, maximizing its value through financial engineering.

Although the United States wants to come to an agreement by June, Dendrinou explained that things are moving more slowly on the European side due to the greater risks posed by Russian retaliation, as Europe has more assets in Russia. This adds to fears of knock-on effects on the euro’s role as a reserve currency.

Still, Setser came back with ambitious plans to generate even more interest income by actively managing the funds. “If you put this in deposit accounts and you had access to the full $300 billion,” he said, a reasonable estimate “is nine to ten billion dollars per year.”

Dendrinou and Lichfield expressed skepticism about the feasibility of doing this from a legal perspective, as it may require changing the ownership of the assets. Looking to the future, Dendrinou tentatively suggested that there’s “probably going to be some kind of financial engineering in place” by next year’s spring meetings.

Setser, on the other hand, boldly predicted that by June, the G7 will “agree to a facility that pulls forward some, not all, future interest income so that the current sum that flows to Ukraine this year is more than the three to four billion that is currently being discussed.” G7 outcomes from this week may provide some early signs about a realistic timeline for using the interest income.

Watch the event

APRIL 16, 2024 | 6:15 PM ET

Dispatch from IMF-World Bank Week: IMF report launches keep it dull

Each year at the spring and annual meetings, participants like me count down to the launch of the IMF’s most important flagship publications—the World Economic Outlook (WEO) and Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR). The launches are typically the high point of the week, often receiving more media attention than pronouncements from the finance ministers and central bank governors that come later on.

The GFSR unveiling has always been a jargon-laden affair. While the WEO press conferences have become increasingly staid over the years, they were once known for public debate and even sarcasm.

The most memorable launch happened in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when the IMF came under fire for its tough policy prescriptions. Then IMF Chief Economist Michael Mussa had firmly defended the Fund against the attacks—which especially rankled when they came from then World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz. At the September 1998 WEO launch, Mussa declared that “those who argue that monetary policy should have been eased rather than tightened in those economies are smoking something that is not entirely legal.”

But today’s launch events at IMF headquarters hewed to the new status quo. IMF Economic Counsellor Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, who heads the Fund’s Research Department, offered the WEO’s case for optimism—with global growth forecast at 3.2 percent in 2024 and 2025—arguing that “the global economy remains remarkably resilient” although progress to reduce inflation has “stalled.” Notably, he called on China to address its property downturn and “lackluster” consumer demand. IMF Financial Counsellor Tobias Adrian then elaborated on the financial sector risks hanging over China at the GFSR press conference.

Mentioned only in passing were global geopolitical fragmentation, the divergence of fortune between advanced and low-income countries—the latter an important theme of this WEO—and the stalled progress in restructuring developing country debt. These uncomfortable issues were left to another day.

APRIL 16, 2024 | 12:31 PM ET

The IMF warns the United States to get its fiscal house in order

Unlike last year, the IMF’s World Economic Outlook (WEO) and Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR) were not derailed by events happening a few days before publication. Last October, the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel the weekend before the Marrakesh meetings rendered the Fund’s forecasts outdated by the time they appeared.

Iran’s large-scale attack on Israel, by contrast, has not yet led markets to a fundamental reassessment of geopolitical developments, although the situation remains extremely fragile. The IMF’s spring reports therefore deliver a timely message about the factors behind a more somber medium-term outlook. With the inflation shock gradually diminishing, the Fund’s forecasters are on more solid ground assessing the challenges facing the IMF’s member countries, with fiscal pressures front and center in this year’s reports.

These are also depicted in an excellent article by Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the IMF’s chief economist. The degree of fiscal adjustment needed to stabilize medium-term debt ratios for many countries is striking, including the United States. The US fiscal stance is raising “short-term risks to the disinflation process, as well as longer-term fiscal and financial stability risks for the global economy,” as Gourinchas put it. In other words, US fiscal policy poses a risk both to US disinflation and to global long-term interest rates unless the United States gets its fiscal house in order.

“Something will have to give,” concludes Gourinchas, an ominous reference to a long list of downside risks that are listed in the two reports. However, the good news is that the GFSR is less alarmist about financial sector developments this time, focusing instead on how to manage the “last mile of disinflation,” a considerable change in tone compared to the discussions only a year ago when the United States was on the verge of a major banking crisis.

As always, the IMF as a multilateral institution needs to be careful how it depicts geopolitical events, and there are well-calibrated references to commodity price developments and supply chain disruptions caused by ongoing conflicts. The reports, however, cannot elaborate on the precarious situation caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

But these conflicts may increase pressures on government finances, including from rearmament needs, fiscal spending during an election cycle, and lower tax revenues due to mediocre growth rates. As a result, the advocated fiscal adjustment may remain elusive. Still, the IMF’s staff has done its duty by pointing out the underlying risks.

APRIL 16, 2024 | 9:41 AM ET

How much can multilateral development banks crowd in private capital? It’s not looking like much—so far.

In redefining its mission as striving for a world without poverty on a livable planet, the World Bank—under President Ajay Banga—has drawn attention to the need to mobilize capital resources to help developing countries close the climate action funding gap: A gap that currently amounts to the difference between the $100 billion committed annually by donor countries and the over $2.4 trillion needed per year by 2030.

It is clear that developed countries and multilateral development banks don’t have the capital resources to meet much of the investment gap. As a consequence, the Bank has put much effort into finding ways to catalyze, or crowd in, private capital by providing risk-sharing and guarantee facilities. With private institutional investors and asset managers holding more than $400 trillion of assets under management, the Bank hopes to draw in multiples of private capital to stretch its project dollars.

However, research by the Institute of International Finance has found that in recent years, multilateral development banks collectively managed to mobilize just fifteen dollars for every one hundred dollars committed—or one-fifteenth, decidedly not significantly multiplying the amount it has put up in its commitments.

While it is truly important and laudable for the Bank to find ways to catalyze private capital, it is better to be realistic about the potential outcome and impact of such efforts, so as not to set the stage for later disappointment. By presenting realizable targets—at least for the foreseeable future—the Bank can focus on the tremendous climate action investment gap that needs to be filled, continuously urging the international community to rise to the occasion to help meet the challenge before it is too late.

Of course, developing countries can help themselves by implementing structural reforms, especially in governance, to make themselves increasingly investable in the eyes of both domestic and international investors, attracting the needed investment flows.

APRIL 16, 2024 | 7:58 AM ET

When it comes to trade relationships, North America comes first, argues Mexico’s secretary of finance

Mexico’s Secretary of Finance Rogelio Ramírez de la O joined the Atlantic Council’s studios on Monday to outline his country’s economic priorities, including its relationship with the United States.

Ramírez de la O argued that Mexico is “one of the most open economies in the world for both trade and capital,” thanks in part to the country’s exports, which are reported at over 35 percent of gross domestic product. The secretary of finance said that the country benefits from its level of openness, which he stated is comparable to certain European countries—but it’s also one that “fewer economies in Latin America have.”

Last year, Mexico surpassed China as the biggest exporter of goods to the United States. Mexico is committed to North American integration because “it’s where the core of our exports activities [lie],” Ramírez de la O argued. “This doesn’t mean that anything else comes secondary, but it comes next.” Looking ahead toward the USMCA renewal in 2026, the secretary of finance reassured members about product traceability—a demand rising from concerns over Chinese products. “We’re trading mainly and foremost North American content,” he said.

Speaking on the first day of the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings, Ramírez de la O discussed reforms he’d like to see the Bretton Woods Institutions make, including correcting current account imbalances to revisit the world trade rules architecture and advocated for revisiting financial assistance for Latin America. He expressed readiness to engage with the Group of Twenty and multilateral development fora to define a global tax framework.

Watch the event


APRIL 15, 2024 | 7:28 PM ET

What’s the strategy behind this year’s smaller-scale spring meetings?

The spring meetings have just gotten underway, but thus far the official events around 19th Street feel somewhat scaled down. The registration and security lines today were certainly shorter than last year. And there are notably fewer headline events, at least as far as the official World Bank side convenings are concerned.  

Perhaps it’s reflective of the Bank’s intent to bring more focus to its work—as President Ajay Banga discussed in his preview press conference. The Bank consolidated its public schedule into three days with just two “flagship events”—one on the energy transition in Africa and one on strengthening health systems. Both are decidedly linked to the International Development Association (the Bank’s concessional fund for low-income countries) whose twenty-first replenishment campaign seems to have more urgency and ambition as debt and other macroeconomic, microeconomic, and geopolitical challenges stymie recovery and growth in deeper ways.

Or perhaps it reflects an interest in putting more time into one-on-one, closed-door, dealmaking meetings—including with the private sector. Leveraging resources and mobilizing private capital is a priority for the Bank, as Anna Bjerde, managing director for operations, reiterated in our conversation this afternoon: “In a world where resources are scarce, ‘leverage’ is the name of the game,” she said.

Or perhaps it reflects the pace and impact of the “unofficial” spring meetings: The increasing number of side events with a broader array of actors around and beyond 19th Street, including our robust dual-sited slate at the Atlantic Council. These convenings are as well, if not better, placed to unpack—and discuss critically—the global geoeconomic, financial, development, and sustainability challenges and opportunities we collectively face, as well as navigate how (after eighty years) the Bretton Woods Institutions and the larger multilateral system should evolve and respond.

APRIL 15, 2024 | 6:51 PM ET

Dispatch from IMF-World Bank Week: Climate change is the writing on the wall

With the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings taking place again in Washington this year, the setting is familiar—but there’s also something strikingly new. As I walked into the World Bank’s headquarters today alongside many of the world’s finance leaders and experts, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Bank’s mission statement, posted by the entrance, had changed: “Our dream is a world free of poverty,” had smartly been amended to add “on a livable planet.”

The new statement reflects the World Bank’s goal to evolve and to equip itself fully to deliver on its mission, which I discussed today with the Bank’s managing director of operations, Anna Bjerde.

The statement also exposes a hard truth: A world free of poverty cannot be attained or sustained in a world where carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions keep rising and climate challenges keep growing at the expense of the poorest—even as low-income populations contribute a mere 0.5 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to World Bank data.

Addressing global poverty and climate change requires more cooperation among the world’s largest economies and emitters; but the recent rise of geopolitical tensions and geoeconomic fragmentation, as our Bretton Woods 2.0 Project has pointed out, has made such cooperation much harder. This year’s spring meetings are a golden opportunity to make the case for more cooperation on addressing global challenges and reducing the rising temperature—both of the planet and its geopolitics.

This July, the Bretton Woods institutions will celebrate their eightieth anniversary, amid multifaceted perils facing the global economy and the world order. The countries present at the spring meetings must face these threats head on, so that by the time the IMF and World Bank turn one hundred, their member countries can look back with pride at the hard decisions they made to secure a livable and peaceful planet for all.

APRIL 15, 2024 | 3:27 PM ET

Geopolitics is eroding the IMF’s relevance

Expectations for this week’s Group of Twenty (G20) and IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings have hit a floor as the geopolitical environment continues to deteriorate. Russia and Iran are intensifying their pressure on Ukraine and Israel respectively, and political divisions in the West on the conflicts are becoming more acute. China is about to trigger another trade scuffle by throwing the (financial) weight of the state behind key industries that compete for global market share. The United States and Europe are on the defensive, fiscally stretched and riven by societal polarization that is also shaped by geopolitical adversaries.

There will be ample diplomatic squabbling over communiqué language concerning the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the usual appeals to the spirit of multilateral cooperation—but there will also be complaints over excessive subsidies, trade restrictions, and financial sanctions. Discussions over quota reallocations will be doomed by irreconcilable geopolitical differences, and progress toward a more workable global debt architecture is likely to remain gradual, even if important work is proceeding on a technical level.

The one area where some consensus may exist is in raising funds for climate and development finance. Again, Western countries are on the defensive here, given that national development budgets have generally shrunk. Leveraging the funds of multilateral lenders, which the Western countries still dominate, remains an important way to at least partly match the financial resources that China, the Gulf countries, and increasingly India channel into building diplomatic ties with the developing world.

This also explains the selection of Kristalina Georgieva from Bulgaria to serve another term as IMF managing director. Under her leadership, the fund has expanded its toolkit to lend to developing countries, generally with fewer questions asked of loan recipients than under her predecessors, likely spelling financial trouble in the future. Already, there are demands for further reductions in the IMF’s lending rates as well as additional Special Drawing Rights (SDR) issuances.

By contrast, the Fund’s core economic work has generally received less attention. During her first tenure, the institution’s work was tailored to Georgieva’s personal areas of expertise, most of which lie in the mandate of the World Bank. The Fund was largely silent on the run-up in inflation, and its global economic messages have lacked clarity as it generally shies away from calling out countries for bad economic management.

Kenneth Rogoff, a former IMF chief economist, asked in a 2022 article why the IMF has turned into an aid agency. This question has now been answered by the majority of the IMF’s shareholders, who simply seem to prefer it that way. Whatever may be achieved during this year’s spring meetings, the mandate of the once proud institution seems to have shifted from safeguarding global financial stability to becoming a source of cheap funding for climate and development purposes.

APRIL 15, 2024 | 12:13 PM ET

COVID-19’s economic impact on the poorest countries has just become clearer

Four years after COVID-19 shook the global economy, the World Bank has released a report that lays out in the starkest possible terms just how devastating the pandemic was for the world’s poorest economies. In a report entitled “The Great Reversal,” the Bank details how much ground many of the world’s seventy-five least-developed countries have lost: One-half of that group is seeing its income gap with advanced economies widening, and one-third is poorer today than on the eve of the pandemic.

A key reason for the failure to regain growth momentum after COVID-19 has been sharply rising debt. In a separate report on developing country debt issued late last year, the World Bank estimated that eleven of the low-income countries were in “debt distress,” and twenty-eight were at “high risk” of distress. In 2022, the year the report analyzed, low- and middle-income countries paid $443.5 billion in debt service and $185 billion in principal repayments.

The countries assessed in “The Great Reversal” are eligible for World Bank low-interest loans and grant aid from the Bank’s International Development Association. They account for 92 percent of the world’s population living without access to affordable, nutritious food and over 70 percent of the world’s extreme poor. At the same time, their economies collectively account for only 3 percent of global output.

As central bank governors and finance ministers gather this week, the question—which they have faced at every spring and annual meeting since early 2020—will be whether they are prepared to work together to address this crisis of deepening poverty and debt. Or, will they leave town having only issued more communiqués expressing their “deep concern”?

APRIL 15, 2024 | 7:50 AM ET

Financial markets may be calm after Iran’s attack, but watch how countries react to pressure from elevated oil prices and dollar pressure

The IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings have officially kicked off, and international financial markets have maintained fragile stability in the immediate aftermath of Iran’s large-scale attack on Israel, which included the launch of more than three hundred missiles and drones. The United States, along with several European and Middle Eastern countries, has emphasized the need to prevent further escalation. Due to the fact that Iran’s attack was less damaging than some anticipated, but with the still lingering risk of war, oil prices have given back some of the risk premiums built up last week in anticipation of Iran’s attacks, with Brent Crude sinking to just below ninety dollars a barrel—after having gained some 12 percent since the beginning of this year. In case of all-out war between Israel and Iran and disruptions of the oil flow through the Strait of Hormuz, oil prices can well exceed one hundred dollars a barrel. About a fifth of the volume of the globe’s oil consumption ships through the strait, with very few alternative routes.

Meanwhile, persistently strong inflation data in the United States has pushed market expectations for the first Fed cut later in the year, keeping the dollar strong—the greenback has appreciated by about 14 percent since the recent low in 2021. The dollar is also underpinned by safe haven flows given heightened geopolitical tension.

The combination of elevated oil prices and a strong dollar has put pressure on many countries, especially low-income countries. In particular, nearly all Group of Twenty (G20) members have seen their currencies weaken against the dollar—led by the Turkish lira and the Japanese yen, which each lost more than 8 percent since the beginning of the year. This has prevented many countries from easing monetary policies to support their economic recoveries. Watch this topic closely: The dollar’s strength, and the potential negative impact of it, could be a main topic of discussion in the G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors scheduled for April 17 and 18.


APRIL 14, 2024 | 4:45 PM ET

Dispatch from IMF-World Bank Week: The era of separating geopolitics and economics is over

As the world’s finance ministers and central bank governors descend on Washington this week—and snarl the city’s traffic—they seem to just want to be able to stick to the script.

It’s an understandable sentiment. The agenda is daunting, with issues such as sticky inflation, China’s struggling economy, and a rising risk of debt defaults. And, as IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva made clear in her curtain-raiser speech at the Atlantic Council on Thursday, those are just the immediate problems. The medium-term challenges of job disruptions from artificial intelligence and the green energy transition can’t be ignored.

But as Iran’s large-scale attack on Israel this weekend reminded us, the ministers and governors will need to first address something else—the reality that geopolitical tensions and conflict have, as Georgieva said, “changed the playbook for global economic relations.”

Six months ago, on the eve of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Marrakesh, Hamas unleashed its brutal terrorist attack on Israel. The ministers spent the next five days being asked about the possible impacts on the regional and global economy, and nearly all of them demurred. As we at the Atlantic Council pointed out at the time, that was a mistake. It was clear from the start that war between Israel and Hamas would have economic repercussions. Sure enough, two months later, Houthi attacks linked to the war began disrupting major shipping routes in the Red Sea.

Now, Iran’s attack has cast a dark shadow over the spring meetings. Once again, many of the ministers will surely try to avoid addressing the potential fallout. Even if geopolitics is the last thing the ministers want to be discussing, they may not have a choice. It’s worth remembering that the Bretton Woods Institutions were created during a war to address the devastating economic toll of conflict. For the last several decades, it was often possible to keep geopolitics and economics separate—but that time is over. The sooner the ministers recognize the new reality, the more effective they can be.

APRIL 11, 2024 | 2:44 PM ET

IMF head Kristalina Georgieva on how to avoid ‘the Tepid Twenties’ for the global economy

With global growth predicted to remain “well below” its historical average—at slightly above 3 percent—“making the right policy choices will define the future of the world economy,” International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Thursday.

“The sobering reality is global economic activity is weak by historical standards,” inflation is “not fully defeated,” and fiscal buffers “have been depleted,” she explained at an Atlantic Council Front Page event ahead of the 2024 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings. “Without a course correction, we are indeed heading for ‘the Tepid Twenties’—a sluggish and disappointing decade.”

Yet, there is reason for optimism, Georgieva argued while previewing an upgrade to global growth forecasts the IMF will release next week: Growth is “marginally stronger” thanks to “robust activity” in the United States and in many emerging-market economies, including an increase in household consumption and business investment and the easing of supply-chain problems.

Inflation is dropping “somewhat faster than previously expected”—a trend Georgieva expects to continue in 2024. While inflation is down in the United States, new data this week show that it may be creeping back up; “that is a concern,” Georgieva said, “but I think the [Federal Reserve] is acting prudently.” In response to some predictions that inflation would come down, propelling the Fed to cut interest rates this year, Georgieva cautioned “not so fast.” If the Fed has to then reverse course and raise rates, she said, that would undermine public confidence in monetary policy.

Yet on the other hand, high interest rates in the United States are “not great news” for the rest of the world. “High interest rates mean the dollar is also stronger,” which for other countries means that their currencies “are weaker,” she explained. “It could become a bit of a worry in terms of financial stability.”

Below, read more highlights from Georgieva’s curtain-raiser speech and conversation with Atlantic Council President and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Kempe, which touched upon the “good policies” needed to achieve a soft landing across the world and concerning economic trends in China.

New Atlanticist

Apr 11, 2024

IMF head Kristalina Georgieva on how to avoid ‘the Tepid Twenties’ for the global economy

By Katherine Walla

“Making the right policy choices will define the future of the world economy,” International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said at the Atlantic Council.

China Financial Regulation

APRIL 10, 2024 | 2:02 PM ET

What to expect from the 2024 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings

Josh Lipsky, senior director of the Atlantic Council GeoEconomics Center, breaks down the issues at the top of the agenda for the spring meetings.

Further reading

Related Experts: Josh Lipsky, Nicole Goldin, Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou, Jeremy Mark, Martin Mühleisen, Hung Tran, and Katherine Walla

Image: Participants and passers-by walk past a poster of the Spring Meetings at the main building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At this year's Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington (USA), international representatives from politics and business are discussing the development of the global economy, inflation and reform plans at the World Bank, among other things.