G-20 hears Korea concerns, backs more Japan stimulus

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G-20 hears Korea concerns, backs more Japan stimulus

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Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, right, laughs Saturday as he prepares for a G-20 group photo in Washington. [REUTERS/NEWSIS]

While Japan won international endorsement of its push for a stepped-up stimulus to tackle the country’s 15 years of deflation, Korea’s concerns about the impact of the weak Japanese yen on Asian currencies were dismissed at a meeting of the Group of 20 finance chiefs and central bankers over the weekend.

Although the Korean government claimed the two-day meeting that ended Saturday in Washington was a success, critics say Korea’s voice was not loud enough.

According to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, Korea achieved three goals at the meeting: Japan’s clear statement that its quantitative easing will not target foreign exchange rates; increased awareness of the potential for advanced countries’ quantitative easing to have unintended negative effects on other countries; and international recognition of Korea’s macroeconomic policy - such as the proposed 19.3 trillion won ($17.3 billion) supplementary budget and April 1 real estate stimulus plan - as a positive contribution to global recovery.

Despite Korean Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok’s expression of concerns over the low Japanese yen, the G-20 finance chiefs and central bankers praised this month’s measures by the Bank of Japan aimed at delivering 2 percent inflation within two years. They signaled that Japan’s focus on supporting domestic demand was strong enough to allow them to discount the effects of the weak yen on their own economies.

“Winning international understanding gives me more confidence to conduct monetary policy appropriately,” said BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda after the meeting. “We will continue our qualitative and quantitative easing for the next two years to achieve the 2 percent price stability target.”

The support for Japan accompanied a G-20 warning that the world economy was weakening again, as officials acknowledged “much more is needed” to reinforce it. They intensified pressure on the euro area to get back on track, pressed ahead with steps to stop cross-border tax evasion and disagreed over how to rededicate themselves to reducing sovereign debt.

Repeating their promise of February to refrain from “competitive devaluation,” without singling out Japan for criticism, the group of key industrial and emerging economies indicated an acceptance of the BOJ’s plan to double its monetary base through bond buying even if it undermines the yen.

The Japanese yen has declined 20 percent in the past six months and fell for a fourth day against the dollar to 99.52 at the end of New York trading on Saturday. The currency slid to 99.95 on April 11, the weakest level since April 2009.

In a nod to concerns that stimulus in one country can create challenges elsewhere by forcing up other currencies and propelling capital flows, the G-20 said it will “be mindful of unintended negative side effects stemming from extended periods of monetary easing.”

Korea’s Finance Minister Hyun said the cheaper yen remains a “concern” for his economy and urged advanced nations to prepare for an orderly exit from quantitative easing programs. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble noted that easy monetary policy is no “substitute for the necessary” reforms to Japan’s economic structure.

“While it is understandable that Japan’s quantitative easing policies are aimed at ending deflation for the domestic economy, a sliding yen and increasing volatilities of Asian currencies including the won are a concern,” Hyun said on Friday.

He added that advanced nations need to prepare for an orderly exit from quantitative easing policies well in advance in the event the global economy recovers.

It was Hyun’s first international meeting as the country’s finance minister since taking office in late March.

By contrast, Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega, who coined the term “currency war” in 2010 to describe the negative spillover of rich nation stimulus on emerging markets, praised Japan’s efforts to end deflation as a “daring move” worth celebrating.

Experts say the international endorsement of Japan’s quantitative easing does not help the Korean economy at all.

Korea could be the only country directly affected by the cheaper yen due to its dependence on exports. The country’s major export items, like petrochemicals, automobiles and machinery, compete with Japanese products in overseas markets. The low yen makes Japanese products cheaper.

According to the Korea International Trade Association, 24 of 49 export items from Korea that compete against Japanese counterparts saw decreases in their volume in January and February.

“If the yen continues weakening, Korea might yield to Japan in terms of electronics exports, too,” said a researcher at the association.

By Song Su-hyun, Bloomberg [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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