Tags: Steil | Bretton Woods | China | US

Economist Steil: Don’t Hold Your Breath for Another Bretton Woods Conference

Thursday, 28 Feb 2013 07:53 AM

By Dan Weil

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In 1944, the Bretton Woods conference established a global currency structure for the post-World War II era, but don’t expect something similar now, says Benn Steil, director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, pundits and world leaders alike called for a new Bretton Woods to address the global financial imbalances that had become both dangerous and endemic,” he writes in The Wall Street Journal.

“These imbalances have been created predominantly by the U.S. and China, which together account for a third of world gross domestic product.”

Editor's Note: This Wasn’t an Accident — Experts Testify on Financial Meltdown

The United States has amassed the world’s biggest stockpile of debt — $15.9 trillion — while China has built up a whopping $3.3 trillion of currency reserves.

And 60 percent of those reserves are allocated to financing the U.S. debt — through acquisition of U.S. government securities.

“Each government eyes the trajectory of the two stockpiles with trepidation,” Steil says.

But, “China is, unlike the U.S. in the 1940s, in no position to orchestrate a Bretton Woods-type refashioning of the global monetary architecture,” he writes. And “the U.S. today is hardly the supplicant, war-torn Britain of the '40s.”

The dollar comprises 60 percent of global foreign-exchange reserves, a decrease 70 percent a decade ago, and three-fourths of global imports from countries other than the United States are denominated in dollars, Steil explains.

“China believes the U.S.-dominated international financial architecture fails to provide adequate security for its economic interests, yet it can identify no alternative blueprint that doesn't imply massive financial losses on its reserves, dislocation for its export industries, and potential social unrest.”

On the U.S. side, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke denies the central bank is igniting a currency war. “We’re not targeting our currency,” he said in congressional testimony Tuesday.

“Our position is that our expansionary monetary policies, which are being replicated in other industrial countries, are increasing demand globally and helping not only our businesses but also the businesses in other countries that export to us. And so this is not a beggar-thy-neighbor policy.”

Editor's Note: This Wasn’t an Accident — Experts Testify on Financial Meltdown

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