The leaders of the G-20 countries have played a crucial role in rescuing the world from the brink of economic and financial disaster. They agreed to an impressive agenda in Washington in November 2008, and at their April 2009 London summit committed themselves to an integrated strategy to rescue the world economy from the brink of depression, to reform international financial regulation, and to transform the governance of the world's most important global financial institutions.
But now the G-20's accomplishments are in danger of unraveling, because these countries have failed to implement their agreements on reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These reforms would enhance the role of the emerging market and developing countries, and help to cement the commitment of those countries to the global system. A failure now would produce multiple black eyes for the G-20 and represent a setback for the still-precarious world economy.
The challenge for the G-20 is to live up to its subsequent pledge in Seoul in November 2010 to implement a two-step reform of the IMF's governance. The first step would double IMF quota subscriptions, which are the core financial resources the IMF uses to lend to other members. Although this step would not significantly increase the overall financial resources of the IMF due to offsetting reductions elsewhere, it would modestly redistribute voting power away from the advanced countries and toward fast-growing emerging market and developing countries.
In addition, the Seoul agreement included the adoption of an amendment to the IMF charter that would redistribute seats on the IMF's executive board away from Europe. The G-20 leaders promised that this combined first step would be implemented by mid-October of this year, when the IMF's annual meeting will be held in Tokyo.
The second step agreed to in Seoul called for a revision of the formula used to adjust IMF quota shares by January 2013. This revision would be followed by a substantial increase in IMF quota subscriptions and overall financial resources by January 2014. This also promises to further increase the IMF voting power of emerging and developing countries, which was a key to winning their agreement to the overall reform package. Many of those same countries are now being called by the Europeans and by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde to temporarily lend to the IMF to protect Europe and the rest of the world from an escalation of the European sovereign debt crisis. One would think they would be more inclined to heed those calls if prospects for the reforms' implementation were better.
Unfortunately, and potentially tragically, the G-20 countries have dropped the ball on implementing the IMF governance reforms. Although October is still months away, it now looks like the Seoul commitments will not be met on the original timetable. None of the elements of the first step in the Seoul agreement can be implemented unless they all receive the necessary approvals. The crucial element is the amendment of the IMF charter: It requires acceptance by 60 percent of member countries (113 of 187) that also hold 85 percent of total IMF votes, which are weighted according to IMF quotas.