unctad.org | World Anticrisis Conference (Opening Ceremony)
Statement by Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
World Anticrisis Conference (Opening Ceremony)
Astana, Kazakhstan
23 May 2013


Your Excellency, Mr. Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address this World Anti-crisis Conference, and I would like to congratulate President Nazarbayev and the Government of Kazakhstan for this initiative and for their hospitality. By bringing together an impressive group of experts as well as a broad range of United Nations member States, this conference provides an excellent opportunity for inclusive and informed discussion on the reforms needed in the global economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost five years have passed since the global financial crisis, and the world economy is still reeling from its consequences. Last year, global growth was only 2.3 per cent, and a full recovery is not in sight. The main reason for this is the continued stagnation in the developed countries, which is adversely affecting economic dynamism in other regions. Indeed, growth in the advanced economies is likely to slow down from 1.2 per cent in 2012 to only 0.8 per cent in 2013. If developed countries remain unable to revive their economies, there is a risk that this mediocre pace of growth may yet turn into a global recession.

At this juncture, we therefore face a dual challenge. First, we must urgently take measures to restore the world economy to stable and sustained growth, so as to truly overcome the crisis. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, we must ensure that such a devastating financial crisis cannot recur. This will require significant reforms to global economic governance, far beyond what has been achieved so far. Allow me to only say a few words about each of these challenges:

The slow growth in the advanced economies and thus in the world economy is partly the natural consequence of a credit crunch and sharply reduced demand in the aftermath of a crisis. However, in many countries these effects are being exacerbated by severe austerity policies.

In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, a number of countries implemented coordinated fiscal stimulus measures, which prevented the downturn from becoming a global economic meltdown. However, soon thereafter, the focus of policies in the major advanced economies shifted. Led by concerns over possible inflation and debt, countries withdrew fiscal stimuli and adopted austerity policies. The task of restarting growth was left to a combination of loose monetary policy and a set of structural reforms.

And yet, so far this approach has not restored growth. Despite years of unprecedented monetary expansions in the United States, Europe and, more recently, Japan, banking credit provided to the private sector has stagnated, or even decreased.

This is largely because banks cannot or will not lend, or because consumers and investors cannot or will not borrow. This conundrum reminds us of the adage that during economic depressions, expansionary monetary policies are like "pushing on a string" - ineffective. The problem is not the supply of money, but aggregate demand.

What is needed are measures to support demand. And yet, austerity policies are contracting demand by raising taxes and reducing expenditure, just when such expenditure would be most required. In this way, several countries that have adopted austerity policies have now been pushed into a double-dip recession. In addition, since these austerity programmes hamper growth - and, consequently, public revenues - they did not achieve their target of fiscal consolidation either. Recent IMF research has corroborated the negative effects of government spending cuts and tax hikes in times of recession.

It is therefore time to reassess the merits of the current policy approach. I greatly look forward to a lively debate on the best future cause of action.

The second key challenge is to prevent a recurrence of the crisis. The financial meltdown at the heart of the financial system has reminded us of a lesson we should already have learnt after the Asian Financial crisis, namely that deregulated financial markets do not allocate resources efficiently and are prone to herd-behaviour and crises. Nevertheless, after the initial flurry of measures to bail out banks and companies in need of liquidity, enthusiasm to address the wider systemic origins of the crisis quickly faded. At the national level, there have been efforts to strengthen regulation of the financial sector in the United States. But at the global level, reforms have been limited to a slight revision of the Basel Capital Adequacy accord, as well as a number of measures to address tax-havens. It is not clear whether these measures could have prevented the financial crisis, had they been in place in 2007. And yet, even these minor steps are beginning to be rolled back.

More importantly, the reforms have not addressed the more fundamental problems of our global financial architecture. The current system based on de-regulated capital markets and floating exchange-rates has not prevented prolonged mis-alignments of exchange rates, or the build-up of large current account imbalances. It has also failed to avert the disorderly expansion of short-term capital movements, which are a major factor of economic instability.

In order to address these issues, much bolder reforms will be required. UNCTAD has long argued that international monetary and financial relations should be governed by rules similar to those currently governing the use of trade policy measures in the World Trade Organization. In a world where tariffs and international trade are increasingly governed by a set of rules to prevent "beggar-thy-neighbour" policies and foster trade liberalization, it is incomprehensible that similar rules do not exist for the global financial system. And this is despite the fact that even small realignments of exchange rates can wipe out any gains from trade liberalization, or that exchange rate crises have repeatedly shown themselves to have devastating effects. A multilateral system of rules could ensure that exchange-rates better reflect long-run fundamentals, and credibly prevent the build-up of imbalances.

Similarly, there is a need to rein in the large volumes of speculative capital flows. Such unregulated capital flows generate a risk not only in the recipient country, but also in the source economy, where the solvency of banks may be undermined by their exposure to asset bubbles in foreign countries. Financial supervision should therefore be applied at both ends of capital movements. Already, the IMF has recently changed its position on the use of capital controls under certain circumstances. However, a multilateral arrangement (such as the "Tobin tax") would probably be more effective.

These are only some of the ideas, many of which require more technical work. Yet, it is clear that truly preventing future financial crisis will require an overhaul of the current system tantamount to a new Bretton Woods. Any such system must, of course, give greater voice to developing nations than they have so far enjoyed in the international financial institutions.

We are still far from such reforms. But I am confident that conferences like this one, benefiting from global participation and expert insight, can make a start.

Thank you very much.


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