* Lew says vital that Europe boost domestic demand
* Reminds of G20 pledge for no competitive devaluations
* Lew chides China's intervention on forex
By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON, April 17 U.S. Treasury Secretary
Jack Lew warned his partners in the Group of 20 on Wednesday
against the perils of "beggar thy neighbor" currency
devaluations, picking out China for special mention, while
noting that Japan was also on Washington's radar screen.
Speaking on the eve of a meeting here of the G20 developed
and emerging economies, Lew also underlined the importance of
stronger demand in Europe, keeping up pressure on Germany to
loosen policies and provide more support for weaker euro zone
members in the bloc's southern region.
"It is imperative that all G20 countries follow through on
their recent commitment not to target exchange rates for
competitive purposes," he told an audience at Johns Hopkins
University's School of Advanced International Studies.
G20 finance ministers and central bankers are expected to
confirm a February pledge to avoid competitive devaluations at
their gathering here on Thursday and Friday on the sidelines of
the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World
Since the G20's February commitment, the Bank of Japan has
pledged to inject $1.4 trillion into the country's economy over
the next two years in an effort to boost inflation to 2 percent
and stimulate the economy.
The measure has sharply undercut the value of the yen on
foreign exchange markets, pushing it to multi-year lows against
the dollar and the euro.
In answer to a question, Lew made clear that the United
States was keeping tabs on the BoJ's actions for any signs that
it has strayed into currency intervention territory.
"We do need to encourage growth in demand, and it should not
be aimed at targeting exchange rates, and we watch closely," he
said, echoing the line taken by the U.S. Treasury in its
semi-annual currency report on Friday.
"Japan has had problems with domestic demand for some time,
and to the extent that they are targeting their policies at
encouraging domestic demand with domestic tools, we think that
is very much consistent with what we and the other G7 countries
agreed to just a few weeks ago in Moscow," Lew said.
He was more direct in his criticism of Beijing, a vital but
sometimes uneasy U.S. partner that Washington frequently presses
to allow its yuan currency to rise on foreign exchange markets,
though it has not labeled China as a currency manipulator.
"We are concerned that in recent months, movement towards
more currency flexibility appears to have slowed and the pace of
China's intervention in the market has picked up," Lew said.
A large chunk of his comments were aimed at Europe, where
weak growth worries Washington, which wants stronger countries
like Germany to dial back strict austerity measures and adopt
looser policies to encourage domestic demand.
"Some of the stronger countries in northern Europe do have
more fiscal space to provide fiscal and monetary policies that
would encourage more domestic demand," Lew said.
But he was sharply critical of measures that are capable of
only generating weak growth in the stronger nations and actually
contribute to shrinking economies in the periphery nations of
the 17-member euro zone.
"I think that it is not a sustainable policy for year after
year after year, and the sooner they get the balance right ...
the sooner they'll start seeing signs of fiscal health."