WASHINGTON – The U.S., heading into a major summit of advanced economies, is warning that currency intervention by countries such as Japan won’t help the cause of boosting global growth, reinforcing Obama administration pressure on the nation to avoid weakening the yen.
“At a moment when global growth appears weaker than it should be, and trade flows appear weaker than they should be, any movement that a country would make that would look like it was intended to put them at a competitive advantage versus their peers is one that would not help boost global growth,” Wally Adeyemo, White House deputy national security adviser for international economics, said in an interview Wednesday.
As President Barack Obama heads to the Group of Seven leaders meeting starting May 26 in Mie Prefecture, the yen’s almost 10 percent surge this year is squeezing the world’s third-largest economy, spurring speculation that Japan may intervene in foreign-exchange markets for the first time since 2011.
In the U.S., Obama faces pressure from companies and politicians from both parties to combat what they label as currency manipulation from major trading partners, including China and Japan.
The U.S. last month put economies including China, Japan and Germany on a new currency watch list, saying their foreign-exchange practices bear close monitoring to gauge whether they provide an unfair trade advantage over America.
While Adeyemo avoided directly criticizing Japan for its consideration of currency intervention, it will be difficult to sidestep the topic as world leaders meet to discuss the global economy.
“We expect all our G-7 partners to live up to their exchange-rate commitments,” Adeyemo said. “The issue the global economy faces is the lack of adequate demand. The way to solve that is by using the right policy mix.”
Kenichiro Sasae, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S., said that while he expects some debate about currency during the meetings, he doesn’t expect the G-7 countries to change their fundamental position this year.
“In the G-7 context there is always a confirmation that all these currency interventions will be justified only when there is an abnormal movement of the transactions,” he told reporters Thursday in Washington. “So the question is how, and what way? So I think there could be some discussion.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal Obama supports has struggled to gain traction in Congress, and the candidates vying to replace him have voiced their opposition. Opponents say the deal, which includes a dozen Pacific Rim nations, lacks strong provisions to combat currency manipulation.
The agreement is also on hold in Japan, the second-biggest country party to it, in part because Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unwilling to press for it as he faces a tough re-election, according to Michael Green, Japan chairman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Ford Motor Co., which opposes TPP because of the currency issue, expects the G-7 will address currency manipulation. The company has called for rules against currency manipulation to be included in the trade accord.
“There has to be a clear agreement on what are the rules of the road, and there has to be consequences for those trading partners,” said Steve Biegun, Ford’s head of international government affairs. “Currency manipulation is just the mother of all trade barriers.”
Ford takes multiple hits when Japan devalues its currency, Biegun said. It makes U.S. production less price-competitive against imports from Japan and makes shipments abroad from Ford, the largest U.S. auto exporter, more expensive in Japan and other international markets, he said.
Toyota Motor Corp. said last week that annual profits will probably decline for the first time in five years as the value of earnings drops when repatriated to Japan. Sadayuki Sakakibara, the head of the nation’s top business lobby, Keidanren, this month called for the government to “put the brakes” on the yen.
Adeyemo said countries like Japan should work to address their financial challenges through fiscal policy, not currency intervention. Countries that have committed to refrain from currency manipulation should abide by those commitments even in the face of economic turbulence, he said.
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