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Policy Brief 12-19

Combating Widespread Currency Manipulation

by Joseph E. Gagnon, Peterson Institute for International Economics

July 2012


Widespread currency manipulation, mainly in developing and newly industrialized economies, is the most important development of the past decade in international financial markets. In an attempt to hold down the values of their currencies, governments are distorting capital flows by around $1.5 trillion per year. The result is a net drain on aggregate demand in the United States and the euro area by an amount roughly equal to the large output gaps in the two economies. In other words, millions more Americans and Europeans would be employed if other countries did not manipulate their currencies and instead achieved sustainable growth through higher domestic demand. Gagnon identifies the 20 most egregious currency manipulators over the past 11 years. Four groups of countries stand out: (1) longstanding advanced economies such as Japan and Switzerland; (2) newly industrialized economies such as Israel, Singapore, and Taiwan; (3) developing Asian economies such as China, Malaysia, and Thailand; and (4) oil exporters such as Algeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

Although currency manipulation to boost trade balances is a violation of the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is currently no procedure to punish or curtail it. The best forum for sanctions against currency manipulators is the World Trade Organization, operating in consultation with the IMF. Countries affected by currency manipulation would be authorized to impose tariffs on imports from manipulators. In order to get manipulators to agree to this change in international rules, the main targets of currency manipulation—the United States and the euro area—may have to play tough. One strategy would be to tax or otherwise restrict purchases of US and euro area financial assets by currency manipulators.

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