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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

IMF's Christine Lagarde: Turkey central bank must stay independent

Currency crisis hits as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he would exert greater powers over the country's key financial institution if re-elected

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Turkish government must ensure the independence of its central bank after confusion sent the lira plummeting. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Turkish government must ensure the independence of its central bank after confusion sent the lira plummeting. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde urged the Turkish government to preserve the independence of its central bank after confusion sent the lira plummeting.

Mixed signals about whether the institution is free of political interference created a sense of uncertainty among investors, putting the currency under pressure, the official said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in St Petersburg.

"In terms of monetary policy, it’s always better for all political leaders to let the central bank governors do the job that they have to do, and to preserve and secure their independence," she said.

Turkey was engulfed by a currency crisis this month as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would exert greater power over central banking if he won re-election next month.

The leader had repeatedly opposed any moves to raise interest rates, referring to them as “the mother of all evil", while investors and economists argued that doing this was the only way to halt the rout.

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"Some of the comments made alerted the international community and particularly the investors to the fact that suddenly the central bank of Turkey could be under directions, instructions, or influence,” Ms Lagarde said.

“That has created a sense of uncertainty and a lack of confidence, which has found its way in the market.”

Mr Erdogan subsequently pledged allegiance to global principles on monetary policy, and, on Wednesday, Turkey’s central bank raised one of its key interest rates by 300 basis points to 16.5 per cent in an emergency meeting after three weeks of largely self-inflicted market turmoil.

On Argentina, Ms Lagarde said the IMF has been working actively with its officials and President Mauricio Macri to design measures to help stabilise the situation in the country's economy and restore confidence.

She said the process was "progressing well".

"We are really moving ahead and we have committed to President Macri that we will do the best we can in order to move expeditiously and efficiently in order to change the perception about Argentina and the perception that people have about our role," Ms Lagarde said.

"So I am very, very focused on that relationship.”

Ms Lagarde said the current outflows seen in emerging markets were to be expected in the event of dollar strengthening, but that many markets are in much better shape today than at the time of the "taper tantrum" in 2013.

"We did say that with dollar strengthening and monetary policy tightening in the US we would most likely see a flow back of capital from emerging markets," she said.

"That’s obviously going to unsettle some of the emerging markets that have not taken the necessary precautions or are weak in their fundamentals."

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a planned summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un next month is the type of unilateral political decision that could have economic ramifications by undermining confidence, Ms Lagarde said.

The US administration’s decision to withdraw from its nuclear agreement with Iran was another, she added.

"I’m concerned about any decision, or any reverse decision, that continues to undermine trust," she said. "Trade is picking up, investments are back, and anything that undermines that fundamental asset of trust is putting that at risk."

While the growth in global trade has had tremendous benefits and should be celebrated, the reconfiguration of global supply chains has also "inflicted wounds that we have not really focused on healing and helping," Ms Lagarde said.

"Trade has had its downsides as well, which we have very much ignored."

Still, trading nations must work together to solve the problems and comply with the existing framework and rules rather than taking unilateral action, she said.