International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has issued a warning against economic nationalism, saying countries need to “sail together” to avoid a slowdown in growth.
The IMF has projected 3.9% global growth for 2018 and 2019. But in a speech in Washington on Monday, Lagarde said “there are signs that global growth has plateaued,” with trade protectionism having already lowered the level of imports and exports around the world.
“A key issue is that rhetoric is morphing into a new reality of actual trade barriers,” she said. “This is hurting not only trade itself, but also investment and manufacturing as uncertainty continues to rise.”
Lagarde noted that the U.S. is “growing strongly, supported by a procyclical fiscal expansion and still easy financial conditions” but in other advanced economies, there are signs of slowing and “challenges have been mounting in a number of other emerging market and low-income countries.”
“If the current trade disputes were to escalate further, they could deliver a shock to a broader range of emerging and developing economies,” she warned.
In the U.S., the Trump administration has pursued a policy of economic nationalism, imposing tariffs on a range of goods from trading partners, including China and Canada.
Lagarde said the current “indicators of moderation in China … will be exacerbated by the trade disputes” and delivered a veiled attack on the U.S.
“History shows that, while it is tempting to sail alone, countries must resist the siren call of self-sufficiency,” she said, concluding, “When we sail together, we are stronger, nimbler, better able to steer the ship through rough waters and avoid the rocks of shipwreck.”
The IMF chief called for “’smarter rules’ for trade that ensure all can gain. We need to fix the system, not destroy it.” Areas for review include “the distortionary effects of state subsidies, preventing abuses of dominant positions, and improving the enforcement of intellectual property rights.”
Another concern for Lagarde is global debt, which has soard by 60% since the financial crisis to reach an all-time high of $182 trillion.
“This buildup has left governments and companies more vulnerable to a tightening of financial conditions,” she said.