August 19, 2015 / 4:10 PM / 4 years ago

IMF freezes benchmark currency basket, defers any yuan addition

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday it will freeze its benchmark currency basket until October 2016, giving markets more time to adjust to the possible addition of China’s yuan as part of a review of global reserve currencies.

Foreign currency banknotes are placed on a basket for counting during a photo opportunity at the bank's headquarters in Seoul November 9, 2010. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

The IMF board is scheduled to decide in November whether the yuan will join the Special Drawing Rights basket.

Beijing loosened government controls on the yuan this month, allowing its value to fall sharply. The IMF saw the policy shift as a step toward a freer exchange rate, potentially setting the stage for the yuan to become part of the SDR basket.

The decision announced in a statement on Wednesday, however, would defer the implementation of any move to include the yuan.

Beijing, keen for its currency to have equal billing with the euro, yen, pound and dollar, has been pushing for the yuan to be included in the SDR basket, which determines the mix of currencies that countries like Greece receive as IMF disbursements.

To be included in the SDR basket, IMF policymakers must decide the yuan is “freely usable,” or widely used to make international payments and widely traded in foreign exchange markets.

Washington has said it hopes Beijing keeps reforming currency policies and meets the IMF’s criteria, but it has not tipped its hand on whether it would back any decision in November to add China.

Currency matters have been a bugbear between the two countries since China devalued the yuan in the 1990s and unleashed a flood of exports to the United States.

This month’s yuan devaluation could help China’s slowing economy but raised hackles from U.S. manufacturers.

An IMF staff report released earlier this month, which recommended extending the basket, showed that although the currency is increasingly used in cross-border transactions and heavily traded in Asia, it is only thinly traded in North America and is not commonly used in international debt securities.

Staff said freezing the current basket, which had been due to expire on Dec. 31, would give parties more lead time to adjust to any changes.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in March asked IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde to push for inclusion, saying Beijing would speed up the convertibility of the yuan and liberalize cross-border investment rules.

Lagarde has said adding the yuan to the basket is a “question of when.”

Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Lisa Shumaker

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