The annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank concluded on Saturday in Marrakech, Morocco. The week-long discussions unfolded in the backdrop of fresh Middle East violence and the host country’s ongoing recovery from a devastating earthquake. Delegates at the event grappled with a range of pressing global issues, from the world economy’s debt and inflation challenges to the growing wealth gap between nations and the struggle to combat climate change.
Diminished Growth Prospects
The IMF’s newly released outlook, approved before the recent escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, revealed a downward revision of global economic growth. Global growth is expected to slow from 3.5% last year to 3% this year and 2.9% in the next, marking a 0.1% decrease from the previous 2024 estimate. The outlook also highlighted that global inflation is projected to decrease from 6.9% this year to a still-high 5.8% next year. Central bankers expressed readiness to halt interest rate hikes if circumstances permit, hoping to tame inflation without causing significant economic turbulence.
Uncertain Impact of Middle East Conflict
The ongoing strife in the Middle East was a topic of concern, with many experts unable to predict its effects on the global economy. IMF chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas described the world economy as “limping along, not sprinting.”
Debt Burdens in Focus
The heavy debt burdens of advanced economies, including the United States, China, and Italy, were a recurring theme in the meetings. Concerns were heightened as financial markets recently pushed U.S. bond yields higher. Italian central bank governor Ignazio Visco noted that markets were “reevaluating the term premium” as investors grew more apprehensive about holding longer-term debt. JPMorgan chair of global research Joyce Chang stated, “The bond vigilantes are back, and the Great Moderation is over.”
Climate Change and Debt
The discussions also brought to the forefront the need for new approaches to combat climate change. Vitor Gaspar, head of the IMF’s fiscal division, cautioned that existing subsidies-based policies were failing to deliver net-zero emissions and that expanding them would lead to increased public debt. The IMF concluded that countries must adopt a new mix of policies, with carbon pricing at the center.
Debt Deals and Reforms
While the major developed economies faced challenges such as higher policy rates, a strong dollar, and geopolitical uncertainties, other countries had their unique concerns. Turkey presented its reform plan to address the pressing issue of inflation. Kenya took steps to avoid slipping into debt distress by planning a buyback of a quarter of its $2 billion international bond maturing in June. Zambia reached a debt restructuring memorandum of understanding with creditors, including China and France. However, progress on Sri Lanka’s debt situation remained uncertain, with talks stalling with other official creditors.
Risks Skewed to the Downside
The IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report warned that high interest rates could put some borrowers in precarious positions. It estimated that about 5% of banks worldwide would be vulnerable to stress if interest rates remained high for an extended period, and an additional 30% of banks, including some of the world’s largest, would be at risk if the global economy entered a prolonged period of low growth and high inflation.
Challenges to Consensus Building
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, increasing trade protectionism, and tensions between the United States and China made consensus-building more challenging. The meetings concluded without the usual final communique due to a lack of agreement on key issues.
IMF and World Bank Reforms
Efforts to revamp the IMF and World Bank to better reflect the emergence of economies like China and Brazil were discussed. A U.S. proposal to boost IMF lending power but defer a review of shareholdings won broad support. A pact announced on Saturday spoke of a “meaningful increase” in quotas by the end of 2023, but it provided few details. Anti-poverty groups, such as Oxfam International, expressed skepticism about the outcomes, noting a lack of new financial commitments to address global poverty and climate issues.
The annual meetings served as a forum for addressing pressing global economic concerns, but the challenges ahead remain significant, with the impact of ongoing crises and the need for collective action to tackle them still uncertain.