Latin America and the Caribbean: Dealing with Another Food Price Shock


By Luis Cubeddu and Sebastián Sosa

(Version in Español)

World food prices are on the rise again owing mainly to global weather-related shocks. This has led to concern that the rise could result in higher inflation and hurt the most vulnerable.

Two points to note are that the recent increase in food prices has been less acute than the two previous episodes (in mid-2008 and early 2011), and features important differences across commodities. For example, while the price of soybeans, corn and wheat are up sharply, coffee and sugar prices are down. Market projections suggest that corn, soy, and wheat prices will stay high through end-2012, but then decline gradually as supply conditions normalize.

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Debt in a Time of Protests


by Nemat Shafik

As the world economy continues to struggle, people are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest painful cuts in public spending designed to reduce government debt and deficits. This fiscal fury is understandable.

People want to regain the confidence they once had about the future when the economy was booming and more of us had jobs.

But after a protracted economic crisis, this will take planning, fair burden-sharing, and time itself.

If history is any guide, there is no silver bullet to debt reduction. Experience shows that it takes time to reduce government debt and deficits. Sustained efforts over many years will ultimately lead to success.

Most countries have made significant headway in rolling back fiscal deficits. By the end of next year in more than half of the world’s advanced economies, and about the same share of emerging markets, we expect deficits —adjusted for the economic cycle—to be at the same level or lower than before the global economic crisis hit in 2008.

But with a sluggish recovery, efforts at controlling debt stocks are taking longer to yield results, particularly in advanced economies. Gross public debt is nearing 80 percent of GDP on average for advanced economies—over 100 percent in several of them—and we do not expect it to stabilize before 2014-15.

So what can governments do to ease the pain and pave the way for successful debt reduction?

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Tharman Sees “Greater Global Policy Resolve”


“Although the economic environment has weakened, the policy resolve has strengthened.” This is how Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance , who is Chair of the IMF’s policy-setting committee, described the outcome of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Tokyo.

Growth is slower than anyone expected,” he admitted in a video interview.  “It is slower in Europe, it is not as fast as it should be in the United States, not as fast as it should be to bring unemployment down, and it is slowing in Asia to a greater extent than was expected. Tharman is chair of the 24-member IMFC.

“But we are now in a much better situation than six months ago when it comes to policy solutions.” He said there had been major steps forward in Europe “despite some disagreement on individual pieces.”  But underlying problems in the Eurozone, budget problems in the United States, and structural problems in global economy are longer term problems and “cannot be fixed quickly.”

For a quick brief on the outcomes from the meetings in Tokyo, take a look at:

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Sendai: A Tale of Natural Disaster, Resilience, and Recovery


in SendaiBy Christine Lagarde

Japan was struck, in the mid-afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2011,  by the country’s largest ever recorded earthquake. Within an hour, parts of Japan’s northeast coast were hit by a wall of water that swept away cars, boats, trains, buildings, roads—and thousands of lives.

It was with humility and respect, then, that I visited parts of the affected area more than 18 months on, in a special event this week in and around Sendai—the Japanese city most affected by the disaster, a couple of hours by train north of Tokyo. This “Sendai Dialogue,” cohosted by the Government of Japan and the World Bank, was part of the overall IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings being held in Tokyo this week.

Disaster turned to success

I went to two areas around Sendai—the first was the Arahama Elementary School, site of a successful evacuation during the disaster. The school is still in its wrecked state—just as it was straight after the tsunami struck. Debris is strewn all over the grounds–a mangled mass of vehicles resembling more a scrap yard than a school. The corridors and classrooms inside are also in ruins.

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Time Not On Our Side: Tough Decisions Needed to Strengthen Financial Stability


By José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

Recent policy actions in Europe, the United States, in emerging markets, and here in Japan, where I’m attending the IMF-World Bank annual meetings, have improved investor sentiment and helped markets rebound in recent months.

Yet our latest assessment is that confidence is still very fragile and risks have increased, when compared to the IMF’s last report in April. Policymakers need to do more to gain lasting stability.

The principal risk remains the euro area. The forces of financial and economic fragmentation have widened the divide between countries at the core and the “periphery” of the euro zone. Faltering confidence and policy uncertainty have led to a pullback of cross-border private capital flows from the periphery—quite an extraordinary phenomenon within a currency union.

This has driven up funding costs to governments and banks, as well as for companies and households, and, in turn, threatening a vicious downward economic spiral.

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Taking Stock: Public Finances Now Stronger in Many Countries


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Versions in  عربي, 中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

The slow global recovery is making fiscal adjustment more difficult around the world, but this doesn’t mean that little has been accomplished.

In fact, significant progress in many countries has been made during the past two years in strengthening their fiscal accounts after the 2008–09 deterioration.  The IMF’s latest Fiscal Monitor takes stock of this progress.

Deficits are lower, and in many cases debt is too

Let me first say something about advanced economies, which is where the most urgent fiscal problems exist.

Most advanced economies have made good progress lowering their fiscal deficits (the imbalance between spending and revenues). Deficits, adjusted for the economic cycle, fell by about ¾ of a percentage point of GDP in 2011 and 2012, and are projected to do so by about 1 percentage point of GDP in 2013.

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Global Economy: Some Bad News and Some Hope


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

The world economic recovery continues, but it has weakened further.  In advanced countries, growth is now too low to make a substantial dent in unemployment.  And in major emerging countries, growth that had been strong earlier has also decreased.

Let me give you a few numbers from our latest projections in the October World Economic Outlook released in Tokyo.

Relative to the IMF’s forecasts last April, our growth forecasts for 2013 have been revised down from 1.8%  to 1.5% for advanced countries, and from 5.8% down to 5.6% for emerging and developing countries.

The downward revisions are widespread.  They are however stronger for two sets of countries–for the members of the euro area, where we now expect growth close to zero in 2013, and for three of the large emerging market economies, ChinaIndia, and Brazil.

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Tokyo links — IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings


The 2012 annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank are being held this year in Tokyo at a crucial time for the world economy. Track everything through the live events schedule  (all Tokyo times).

Key reports out this week are

banner in Tokyo

Stay up-to-date through timely reports from IMF Survey online, through iMFdirect blog, World Bank Voices, and through regular video briefings and YouTube.  Also track news and commentary through Google +.

Extensive Japanese  (日本語) language content and updates are also available.

The Meetings bring together more than 10,000 central bankers, ministers of finance and development, private sector executives, academics, and journalists to discuss global economic issues and the interconnected world.

Restoring Jobs by Restoring Growth


By Min Zhu

Over 200 million people are unemployed around the world, with double-digit jobless rates in many European countries and in many emerging markets. Youth unemployment and long-term unemployment are at alarming levels.

The number of unemployed people is nearly 16 million higher today than in 2007 among countries where labor markets are tracked regularly by the IMF. Much of this increase has been in advanced economies (Chart 1).

The need to tackle the unemployment crisis in these economies is self-evident. But what is to be done?

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