The External Sector Report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that the coronavirus crisis has caused a sharp reduction in trade and significant movements in exchange rates but limited reduction in global current account deficits and surpluses.
The outlook, according to the IMF, remains highly uncertain as the risks of new waves of contagion, capital flow reversals, and a further decline in global trade still loom large on the horizon.
“Our new External Sector Report shows that overall current account deficits and surpluses in 2019 were just below 3 percent of world GDP, slightly less than a year earlier. Our latest forecasts for 2020 imply only a further narrowing by some 0.3 percent of world GDP, a more modest decline than after the global financial crisis 10 years ago.
“The immediate policy priorities are to provide critical relief and promote economic recovery. Once the pandemic abates, reducing the world’s external imbalances will require collective reform efforts by both excess surplus and deficit countries. New trade barriers will not be effective in reducing imbalances, the report said.
“External deficits and surpluses are not necessarily a cause for concern. There are good reasons for countries to run them at certain points in time. But economies that borrow too much and too quickly from abroad, by running external deficits, may become vulnerable to sudden stops in capital flows. Countries also face risks from investing too much of their savings abroad given investment needs at home.
“The challenge lies in determining when imbalances are excessive or pose a risk. Our approach focuses on each country’s overall current account balance and not its bilateral trade balances with various trading partners, as the latter mainly reflect the international division of labor rather than macroeconomic factors.
“We estimate that about 40 percent of global current account deficits and surpluses were excessive in 2019 and, as in recent years, concentrated in advanced economies. Larger-than-warranted current account balances were mostly in the euro area (driven by Germany and the Netherlands) with lower-than-warranted current account balances mainly existing among Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. China’s assessed external position remained, as in 2018, broadly in line with fundamentals and desirable policies, due to offsetting policy gaps and structural distortions.
“Our report offers individual economy assessments of external imbalances and exchange rates for the 30 largest economies. Over time, these imbalances have accumulated, with the stocks of external assets and liabilities now at historic highs, potentially raising risks for both debtor and creditor countries.
“The persistence of global imbalances and mounting perceptions of an uneven playing field for trade has fueled protectionist sentiments, leading to a rise in trade tensions between the US and China. Overall, many countries had pre-existing vulnerabilities and remaining policy distortions heading into the crisis.”