China, India, Brazil become ‘major players’ at IMF

China and India received long-sought recognition Friday as global economic heavyweights as the International Monetary Fund gave them and other emerging powers a significantly larger role in stabilizing the world economy.

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn announced planned reforms to the fund’s voting power after a meeting of the organization’s board, declaring that no longer would emerging economies feel that they are “invited to the table, but minor players.”

Brazil, China, India and Russia are now “major players,” Strauss-Kahn affirmed at a news conference. He called on these nations to assume greater responsibility in guiding the global economy.

The board’s decision elevates China to No. 3 in voting power above traditional IMF powers such as Germany, Britain and France. A number of smaller European nations and oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia lost votes so that “new changes in the global economy will now be reflected in changes in the fund,” according to Strauss-Kahn.

Developing countries have long criticized the voting system of the IMF, which was established after World War II to stave off a reprise of the Great Depression. The United States and Japan maintain the two most voting shares, but two European seats on the 24-member executive board will now be reserved for emerging economies.

The overhaul was called for when world powers met last year in Pittsburgh in an effort to revive global growth after the collapse of financial markets. The so-called Group of 20 nations will meet again next week in Seoul, South Korea.

Strauss-Kahn called the changes the “most fundamental governance overhaul in the fund’s 65-year history, and the biggest ever shift of influence in favor of emerging markets and developing countries to recognize their growing role in the global economy.”

The reform also encompasses the governing board’s membership, expanding its top tier from five to 10.

Currently, there are five countries that essentially make up this group in the IMF’s 24-member executive board as they are always represented: the U.S., Japan, Britain, France and Germany. The group will be expanded to 10 with the addition of China, India, Brazil, Italy and Russia.

The IMF’s full membership of 187 countries must also agree on the changes. Some countries may need legislative approval.

Poorer nations have attacked the IMF’s voting arrangement for giving too much weight to the United States and its allies in Europe, noting the traditional power-sharing arrangement that put a European at the head of the IMF and an American atop the World Bank, its sister institution.

China and others have long sought to challenge the U.S.-European understanding. Strauss-Kahn’s term runs until 2012, the same year presidential elections are scheduled in his native France. A Socialist candidate defeated in the primaries in 2007, he is widely tipped to run again.

IMF officials say the reform essentially resolves any problems it has with a “democratic deficit.”

Emerging countries were recognized for the size of their economies and for their impressive growth figures. Their economies are expanding sometimes two to three times faster than the U.S., Japan and Europe. Their debt ratios are falling much quicker as well.

The reforms represent a shift of about 6 percent of the IMF’s share assessments from the traditional Western powers to developing nations.

Still, there have been critics of the proposed changes. Aid agency Oxfam has called the voting power shift insufficient and notes that the Philippines has less weight than Luxembourg despite having 200 times more people. Others have criticized the effort as an attempt to paste over the harsh consequences of IMF austerity policies in nations such as Ethiopia and Latvia.

Considering the impressive growth of emerging nations, Strauss-Kahn said he expected their power to increase again in 2014 when the IMF is scheduled to reassess voting rights.

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