Economy & Business Financial Regulation Fiscal and Structural Reform Inclusive Growth International Financial Institutions International Organizations
Report October 17, 2022

Modernizing the Bretton Woods Institutions for the twenty-first century

By Ajay Chhibber

This paper outlines reforms for Bretton Woods Institutions – such as the World Bank Group (WGB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The world needs a Bretton Woods 2.0 for the twenty-first century. The challenges that led to World War II — inequality, protectionism, and rising nationalism — have resurfaced and created the dire need for reform of these institutions.

New, even bigger challenges — such as climate change, pandemics, global inflation, and supply chain disruptions — now threaten the global economy and trade. The current institutions are too small and ill-equipped to adequately address the threats of widening wars and surging food and fuel prices. This paper argues that a new international financial and economic architecture is needed. Bretton Woods Institutions must be modernized and revamped to help address these problems for the remainder of the twenty-first century.

The new system requires three core “Rs” – a revised global remit, an enhanced resource base to help individual countries confront collective global problems, and the mandate to monitor agreed-upon global rules. The IMF must refocus itself on addressing global financial instability and macroeconomic policy. The World Bank must become a financial institution focused on planetary sustainability and shared prosperity. A strengthened WTO must become the forum for freer and fairer trade in goods, services, and cross-border transactions.

These institutions must work with regional and other United Nations (UN) specialized bodies. They should coordinate with bilateral aid agencies, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and private philanthropic organizations. The IMF, WTO, and WBG need to leverage their power and resources to draw in private capital at much higher levels. This would provide the Bretton Woods institutions with the needed resources and expertise to address rising global challenges and development needs. These reforms would create a stronger international economic and financial architecture suitable for the twenty-first century.

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