RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The president is now in South Korea for a summit of the most important world economies. As the G-20 leaders meet, one source of growing friction is trade, another, the manipulation of currencies.
NPR's Jim Zarroli says recent moves affecting the dollar have only worsened tensions.
JIM ZARROLI: The countries gathering in Seoul tonight for the G-20 summit can pretty much be put in two camps: There are older, slow-growing economies like the United States, Japan or much of Europe, and there are red-hot, emerging countries like Brazil, China and India that regularly rack up huge trade surpluses.
U.S. officials have long complained that relations among world economies are severely unbalanced. They say China in particular has kept its currency artificially low to make sure its exports are cheap. Here was President Obama in Indonesia yesterday.
President BARACK OBAMA: You're saying some countries run up very big surpluses and intervening significantly in the currency markets to maintain their advantage when it comes to their currency. We've got other countries that are in deficit.
ZARROLI: These days, most countries acknowledge there are imbalances that must be corrected. But some world leaders say steps taken lightly by the U.S. to stimulate growth may be making the world's problems worst.
Economist Eswar Prasad of Cornell University says the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department have poured huge amounts of money into the U.S. economy, and it hasn't had the desired effect.
Professor ESWAR PRASAD (Economist, Cornell University): The problem is that the U.S. is flooding its economy with money, and demand is not quite picking up. So, the result is that a lot of this money is flowing to other countries.
ZARROLI: Prasad says right now in the U.S., money is incredibly cheap. As a result, it's easy for investors to borrow dollars and invest them in fast-growing economies like Thailand and India. In some places, this has helped push up the inflation rate, and governments like Thailand have imposed capital controls to keep too much money from flowing into the country.
Prof. PRASAD: If you have amounts in the order of $10 to 20 billion flooding into an economy like Thailand over a period of two to three months, that sends the Thai stock market and Thai inflation rates surging.
ZARROLI: So Prasad says a lot of countries believe the U.S. is doing much more harm than good.
Prof. PRASAD: There is a very strong sense that the U.S. could end up not doing very much good for itself - probably create some risk for itself - but more importantly, create huge risks for the rest of the world. And there is a sense that the U.S. has blinkers on it about the effects of its policies on the rest of the world.
ZARROLI: And the unhappiness toward the U.S. has only grown in the wake of the Fed's decision last week to pursue a new round of quantitative easing. That is, the Fed is buying up Treasury bonds as a way of pouring even more money into the economy. U.S. officials say the moves are necessary to keep the economy from slipping back into recession and to bring the high unemployment rate down. But the moves were roundly criticized by China, Germany and Brazil.
As the G-20 countries gather in Seoul, there is likely to be plenty of behind-the-scenes finger-pointing and recriminations. Carsten Brzeski, senior economist at ING, says these differences aren't going to be ironed out overnight.
Mr. CARSTEN BRZESKI (Senior Economist, ING): Will we really get a solution for this imbalance problems now at the G-20 meeting? No, we won't. But we will get a lip service and some verbal commitment that at least all the big global players are aware of the problem.
ZARROLI: Brzeski says countries are unlikely to come away from the summit with any hard targets for fixing currency rates or narrowing trade gaps. But there is a slowly building consensus that the global economic order has to change, and that the days when countries like China and India could grow rich running huge trade surpluses with the United States won't last forever.
Jim Zarroli, NPR News.
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