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World Bank, IMF Finance Ministers to Meet in Washington - 2004-04-22


Finance ministers from many of the more than 180 member-countries of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are meeting in Washington April 22-25 to discuss global economic developments.

For Ghana's finance minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo the most important issues are debt and the price of oil. His West African country has been registering significant economic growth in recent years and has had its foreign debt cut in half. Despite that, said Mr. Osafo-Maafo, Ghanaians remain very poor and now they have endured an economic shock in the form of a doubling of gasoline prices.

"We were lucky that people didn't take to the streets, because for me this was a recipe for disaster -- to go up in petroleum prices 94 percent overnight," he recalled. "We had no choice, because we could not subsidize petroleum prices. We couldn't afford it."

Substantive decisions are not expected at the meetings. Instead there will be wide ranging discussion on problems of economic policy, the economic outlook and developing country debt.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said that the recovering world economy is good news, but he added that the benefits of growth are uneven with poor countries like Ghana paying a heavy price for this year's sharp increase in oil prices. Mr. Wolfensohn wants the meetings to focus on global poverty.

"We frankly believe that you can't have peace and stability unless you deal with the problem of poverty," he noted. "But it is not at the moment a hot button issue. A lot of people talk about it but there is not tremendous action."

It was 60 years ago that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were created at a war-time financial conference at which over 30 countries participated. Anne Krueger, the acting head of the IMF, said that the two organizations have promoted global financial stability during six decades of significant progress.

"We've had a growth of international trade," she said. "We've had a liberalization of trade that has spurred that growth. We've had living standards, life expectancies - any measure you choose -- not just incomes, life expectancies, education attainments, what have you, going up."

The IMF itself is in transition as a new managing director is in the process of being named. He is expected to be the outgoing Spanish finance minister Rodrigo Rato. Horst Koehler, the first German to head the fund, resigned last month to accept the nomination to become Germany's state president.

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