23 September 2009

Rich banks to benefit from loans to poor nations ~ says academic Buckley

MARK COLVIN: As leaders from the world's 20 biggest economies meet in Pittsburgh, one of the issues they are confronting is the plight of the world's poor.

Even though many poorer nations' own emissions are low, climate change is having a big impact on them.

And the global financial crisis has caused a collapse in trade and capital flows. It threatens poorer parts of the globe with poverty and hunger.

The G20 has committed hundreds of billions of dollars to the International Monetary Fund to help the hard hit emerging nations but critics argue that the IMF will only make their situation worse.

Among them is Ross Buckley, a professor of law at the University of New South Wales and an expert on global trade and finance.

He spoke to our economics correspondent Stephen Long.

ROSS BUCKLEY: A year ago nobody wanted to know the International Monetary Fund. Now it's the organiser for the international stimulus package which has been sold as a stimulus package for poor countries - but I don't really think it is.


ROSS BUCKLEY: Because what it is is loans. Stimulus packages are usually grants. These are loans that are made by the G20 countries through the IMF to poor countries.

They have to be repaid and what they're going to be used for is to repay the international banks now. So it's really a stimulus package for the rich countries' banks.

STEPHEN LONG: So you think that the International Monetary Fund which has garnered what, somewhere between $US500 billion and $US750 billion to supposedly help the poor countries is actually in a sense a stalking horse for the big global finance houses.

ROSS BUCKLEY: I think that's precisely what's going on. And the reason it's going on is not enough people understand it. There's a democratic deficit if you like at the international level. I don't think rich countries' media or population would allow this but at the international level that's exactly what's happening.

STEPHEN LONG: Well explain why you think that that is the case.

ROSS BUCKLEY: Well because these loans, there's certainly over $500 billion, as you say, of loans. These loans are made by the rich countries to the IMF. They will be conditioned upon the poor countries using them to repay the debt that's due.

So these loans will be used to repay loans that are currently outstanding by poor countries to commercial banks. So the money won't really touchdown in the poor countries. It will go straight through them to repay their creditors.

The IMF lends the money to the countries. The countries use it to repay loans they have to the banks. But the poor countries will spend the next 30 years repaying the IMF.

In a way, if you'd like to see it this way, it's really an increase in seniority of the debt. At the moment the debt is owed by poor countries to banks and if the poor countries had to they could default on that.

The bank debt is going to be replaced by debt that's owed to the IMF which for very good strategic reasons the poor countries will always service.

STEPHEN LONG: How have we arrived at a situation then where as a result of the global financial crisis the International Monetary Fund has come out on top with so much of an increase in its resources?

ROSS BUCKLEY: I suppose because the rich countries need an intermediary to broker and channel the intervention that they want to have for their own interests. The rich countries have made this $500 billion available to stimulate their own banks and the IMF is a wonderful party to put in between the countries and the debtors and the banks.

STEPHEN LONG: Can we be that cynical about it? I've heard the head of the International Monetary Fund speak passionately about this crisis as the Great Recession and the terrible toll it will wreak amongst poor people in poor countries.

ROSS BUCKLEY: When you're adding $500 billion to the long-term debt of the poor countries, many of which are struggling under absolutely intolerable debt burdens already, yes I think we can be that cynical about it.

It's simply not in the, if we really wanted to act in the benefit of these poor countries we would cancel their interest for two years. We would, you know, do something that improves their cash flow now.

STEPHEN LONG: Before the last meeting of the Group of 20 in London earlier this year there was a push from some quarters, from Australia, from the former Reserve Bank official Stephen Grenville, the former prime minister and treasurer Paul Keating to, in effect, decapitate the IMF, take out its governing structure and put the G20 in its place to run the IMF.

Do you think that that would have been a worthwhile reform?

ROSS BUCKLEY: It's difficult to say, you know, the G20 is a broadly representative organisation. If the breadth of those diversity of views can get a voice in the G20 that might be a worthwhile thing.

But I think part of the problem with the IMF is the culture that's right the way through the organisation which is a very naive belief in the power of unfettered markets.

MARK COLVIN: Professor Ross Buckley from the University of New South Wales with Stephen Long.


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