Don’t lose sight of poor nations: IMF

September 27th, 2008 - 9:14 am ICT by IANS  

New York, Sep 27 (WAM) Some 50 developing countries remain at risk through 2009 as a result of food and fuel price increases, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said, urging global powers not to lose sight of them in the din of the market crisis.”While the international community is currently focussed on the ongoing financial crisis in advanced economies, it is important not to lose sight of the other crisis - the continued debilitating impact of food and fuel price hikes on some of the world’s poorest countries,” IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said.

“While food and fuel prices have eased somewhat in recent months, they remain well above their levels at the onset of the recent price surges,” said Strauss-Kahn.

“What this means for a large number of countries, particularly in Africa, is a significant shock,” he said, and called for “bolder action” from the international community in terms of additional aid to help vulnerable countries.

The IMF’s updated assessment shows that the impact of food and fuel price increases on developing countries, far from diminishing, has been mounting since its previous report last June.

As of mid-September, oil prices were at some 40 percent below their mid-July peaks but still double the levels recorded at end-2006. Similarly, food prices have eased eight percent from their June peak but are still above end-2006 levels.

The IMF projects that net fuel-importing low-income countries are facing an increase in their fuel bill equivalent to 3.2 percent of their GDP or $60 billion. For 43 net food-importing countries, the rise in their food bill is 0.8 percent of GDP or $7.2 billion.

“From a macroeconomic perspective, we see the effects in weakening balance of payment positions and national budgets and acceleration of inflation,” said Strauss-Kahn.

The average inflation rate for low-income countries increased by almost three percentage points during the second quarter of 2008, and is expected to exceed 13 percent by the end of this year.

“As we all know,” the IMF official noted, “inflation hurts everyone, but it especially hurts the poor.”

The costs of the fiscal policy response to the food and fuel crisis also have continued to increase.

Countries have responded to rising prices primarily by reducing taxes and tariffs, increasing universal subsidies, expanding transfer programmes, and increasing public sector wages.

The IMF’s updated assessment shows that in 24 countries, the combined fiscal cost from rising food and fuel subsidies is expected to exceed two percent of GDP. The report also points out that these subsidies are almost always poorly targeted in terms of reaching those people most in need.

Strauss-Kahn said: “Faced with these dire statistics, the world must do more. We need to combine forces on the domestic and international levels to guard against excessive inflationary and budget pressures while at the same time helping the poor.”

The IMF study points to two priorities for the affected countries: first, to bring inflation back under control, which will require a robust monetary policy stance, tightening where necessary, and the avoidance of unsustainable wage increase.

The second priority is a shift to better-targeted social safety net programmes to protect the poor in a more cost-effective manner.

Strauss-Kahn also called upon donors to do more.

“External support, preferably grants in the case of low-income countries, continue to be vital to ease the burden of adjustment and to limit the effects on real income and poverty.”

The IMF, working with other international organizations, has augmented its assistance to 15 affected countries, for a total so far of $264 million.

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