By Jason Simpkins
Emerging markets, led by China and Russia, plan to jointly challenge the U.S. dollar's role as the world's sole benchmark currency at the April 2 meeting of the Group 20 nations – a move that underscores the currency's weakness and fading support around the world.
The creation of a new reserve currency to be issued by international financial institutions was one of the measures Russia proposed to the G20 on March 16, ahead of the group's summit next week.
Russian authorities previously met with financial ministers and central bankers from China, Brazil and India on March 13. The group issued its first-ever joint communiqué ahead of the G20 finance ministers last Saturday, March 14. The joint statement did not mention a new currency like Russia proposed, but an unidentified source told Reuters that the issue was discussed.
Chinese policymakers confirmed as much today (Monday) when Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People's Bank of China, released an essay entitled " " on the BOC's Web site.
Without explicitly mentioning to the U.S. dollar, Zhou asked what kind of international reserve currency does the world needs to secure global financial stability and facilitate economic growth.
According to Zhou, the dollar's unique status as the world's primary currency reserve has resulted in increasingly frequent financial crises ever since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971.
"The price is becoming increasingly higher, not only for the users, but also for the issuers of the reserve currencies," Zhou said. "Although crisis may not necessarily be an intended result of the issuing authorities, it is an inevitable outcome of the institutional flaws."
Zhou called for the "re-establishment of a new and widely accepted reserve currency with a stable valuation" to replace the U.S. dollar – a credit-based national currency. The central bank governor noted that the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Right (SDR) should be given special consideration.
Created by the IMF in 1969 to support the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system, the SDR was redefined in 1973 as a basket of currencies. Today the SDR consists of the euro, Japanese yen, pound sterling, and U.S. dollar.
"The SDR has the features and potential to act as a super-sovereign reserve currency," said Zhou. "Moreover, an increase in SDR allocation would help the Fund address its resources problem and the difficulties in the voice and representation reform. Therefore, efforts should be made to push forward a SDR allocation."
Zhou proposed the following actions to move the SDR in a direction that could better accommodate demand for a more stable reserve currency:
- Set up a settlement system between the SDR and other currencies. Therefore, the SDR, which is now only used between governments and international institutions, could become a widely accepted means of payment in international trade and financial transactions.
- Actively promote the use of the SDR in international trade, commodities pricing, investment and corporate bookkeeping. This will help enhance the role of the SDR, and will effectively reduce the fluctuation of prices of assets denominated in national currencies and related risks.
- Create financial assets denominated in the SDR to increase its appeal. The introduction of SDR-denominated securities, which is being studied by the IMF, will be a good start.
- Further improve the valuation and allocation of the SDR. The basket of currencies forming the basis for SDR valuation should be expanded to include currencies of all major economies, and the GDP may also be included as a weight. The allocation of the SDR can be shifted from a purely calculation-based system to one backed by real assets, such as a reserve pool, to further boost market confidence in its value.
Many analysts view the campaign by emerging markets for a new reserve currency as an attempt by to gain more control in the IMF, which has traditionally been dominated by richer countries. But the new currency campaign is also further evidence that Beijing is becoming less and less comfortable with its large holdings of U.S. assets, namely Treasuries.
Concerns about the dollar losing value have escalated in recent weeks as the U.S. Federal Reserve pursues a policy of quantitative easing in an effort of taming the financial crisis.
"We have lent a huge amount of money to the United States," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said earlier this month. "Of course, we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little bit worried. I request the U.S. to maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee the safety of China's assets."
China is the world leader with $2 trillion in foreign currency holdings. About half of that is held in U.S. Treasuries and notes issued by other government-affiliated agencies, such as Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE).
Half of Russia's currency reserves – the world's third-largest stockpile – consist of U.S. dollars, as well.
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China Urges New Global Reserve Currency