Asean urges members to rein in “high” debt levels

03/05/2014 | Anthony Rowley

Ministers from the Asean+3 groups are worried that some countries will be vulnerable to a tightening of US monetary policy because of their high levels of public and private debt

Finance ministers from the Asean plus three countries meeting on the sidelines of the ADB meeting warned that "high levels of public and private debt" in some Asian economies would pose a threat if financial market volatility were to return.

They also urged advanced economies that had been pursuing accommodative monetary policies to be "mindful of the impact on the global and regional economies" as they began to normalise policy.

The ministers from the 10 Asean countries plus Japan, China and South Korea met against a background of rising unease over the possible impact on capital flows of monetary tapering and eventual hiking of interest rates.

They pledged to further strengthen the Asian monetary arrangement known as the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM) as part of a "regional safety net" to be used if capital flows should again be disrupted. This will involve accelerating its implementation

At the same time, they agreed to boost the capacity of the Asean+3 Credit Guarantee and Investment Facility (CGIF) in order to boost local currency bond markets in Asia.

Asean+3 has been trying to increase the use of Asian local currencies in trade settlements and investment within the region.

Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda said after yesterday's meeting that, instead of relying upon one currency - the dollar - it would be healthier to have several key currencies including the euro and currencies from Asia and other developing regions.

The Asean+3 countries "posted steady growth last year and are poised to sustain this momentum in 2014," the ministers said in a communique.

But they noted that "accommodative monetary policies in advanced economies will normalise in due course, with the timing being conditional upon on the outlook for price stability and economic growth.

"The conduct of monetary policy should be communicated early and calibrated carefully [bearing in mind] the impact on the global and regional economies."

Economies "with domestic structural weaknesses such as high inflation, large current account deficits and substantial fiscal imbalances tend to be vulnerable to tightening financial conditions.

"To address these conditions, greater emphasis [should be] placed of maintaining sustainable current account balances and manageable fiscal balances.” 

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