G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs are set to discuss controversial issues at the annual IMF spring meeting. Risks posed by low inflation and the Ukraine crisis are very real, analysts warn.
There was some good news on the eve of the International Monetary Fund's spring conference: After four years, Greece has returned to the international bond markets. At a press conference, IMF boss Christine Lagarde spun the news as a good sign "that Greece is moving in the right direction." The market test had been "very successful," and Lagarde is now convinced that a full "return of Greece to the markets is on the horizon."
However, other kinds of signals came from emerging countries, like Brazil and India, which complained that the increasingly restrictive monetary policy of the US Federal Reserve was stunting their growth.
Lagarde dismissed those concerns, declaring that the emerging nations were still driving growth, even if their interest rates had dipped lately. Considering the figures posted by China (7.5 percent growth), India, and South Africa (both 5.4 percent growth), Lagarde would only call the current development a "rebalancing" - not a crisis.
There was also criticism of the emerging nations from one of the world's most respected financial experts and businessmen Charles Dallara, who once worked under US presidents Ronald Reagan und George H. W. Bush, and today sits on the board of the German Bertelsmann Foundation.
He accused emerging nations of "not using the time of high liquidity to reform their tax systems and labor markets and to liberalize trade laws." Brazil, in particular, would come to regret this, Dallara predicted.
Largarde also had more to say about Ukraine, naming for the first time figures and deadlines for the country: "We reached an agreement with Ukraine 10 days ago on labor."
Since then, the IMF board has considered the matter several times informally. The aid program is set to begin by late April or early May, provided Kyiv does its homework. Lagarde predicted a finance program in the region of $14-$18 billion (10-13 billion euros), which, she argued, would provide enough room for the Ukrainians to answer the creditors' most pressing demands and avert the country's bankruptcy.
IMF drives reforms
Meanwhile, Lagarde does not tire of calling on both industrialized and emerging nations to reform. The IMF-predicted global growth of 3.6 percent this year and 3.9 percent in 2015 was, she said, well below what was possible, and too little to reduce the deficits in national budgets and high unemployment, particularly in Europe.
But, against the IMF's recommendations, the European Central Bank does not yet want to do anything to tackle long-term low inflation, which many - including experts like Dallara - see as a danger to growth.
"We are carrying on a well-advanced dialogue with the European authorities," Lagarde said diplomatically, after ECB boss Mario Draghi last week prompted broad laughter among journalists by thanking the IMF for the "generous" advice.
Dallara calls for a new G7
"We very much respect the ECB's decision," said Lagarde. "It has its finger on the pulse of the European economy." But she also made clear that countermeasures were "just a question of timing." For Lagarde, the keys to growth are cooperation and coordination among the major players of the international financial and economic worlds. Dallara, who once worked as executive director of the IMF, not only agreed with her, but added his own proposal: "I think we need a new group, a new G7," he said.
"We have the G20 with China and India, but now we need something grouped around the US, Japan, Germany, China, India, and Brazil," he added. "These are the key countries of the world economy right now."
The French, British and Italians might have something to say about that.