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Decade-Old Reforms Help Asia's Economies Cope With Crisis

The man who helped Thailand survive the Asian financial crisis says reforms a decade ago have made the region's banks better able to weather the global economic downturn. Former Finance Minister Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda also gave his endorsement to banking-reform programs planned by the United States and G-20 nations.

Thailand led the region into the financial crisis of 1997, when fears about the banks and foreign debt led to a collapse of the baht. Dozens of Asian financial companies shut down, and many banks merged with others, or sold large stakes to foreign investors

Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda became Thailand's finance minister during the crisis.

"In 1997 when we had a certain part of Asia affected by systemic problems in the financial system we undertook a lot of reform measures which have made the Asian financial institutions relatively strong," he said. "So you can probably say that there is not much of a problem of the asset side in the Asian banking system."

While most banks in Asia are relatively sturdy, the global financial crisis is hurting other industries in the region.

Most economies in the region are heavily dependent on export income and have been hard hit by the slump in the United States and Europe, which has cut export sales. The Thai economy is forecast to contract by as much as four percent this year, leaving as many as two million unemployed.

Tarrin says ultimately Asian governments will need to look to export markets for economic revival.

"The governments in Asia have started a lot of fiscal stimulus measures. I mean practically every country has gone through the exercise," he said. "But meanwhile you can only do so much for so long. In the end you still need to go back to international trade and international services flows as the way out for the affected Asian economies."

Tarrin endorses reform measures in the United States set out by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. The U.S. plan includes setting up public-private investments to soak up as much as one trillion dollars in troubled loans and securities.

"As a matter of principle there is no other choice if you want a credit system to function properly, government intervention in the areas of trying to somehow do something with the bad assets is necessary," added Tarrin "And the way the American plan has been detailed out, the Geithner Plan, I think it is quite proper."

He also says plans by the G-20 to revive the global financial system are "moving in the right direction". But Tarrin calls for the major industrial countries to ensure continued support to developing economies because they are unable to maintain large stimulus packages like those in the industrial world.