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US 'especially vulnerable' in trade war, says IMF chief

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Ms Lagarde says growth is already beginning to slow in the Euro Area, Japan and the UK, and recent US fiscal stimulus would soon wane.

Washington

THE US economy is "especially vulnerable" to damage from the burgeoning global trade war, which could shave hundreds of billions of dollars off global GDP, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Wednesday.

In remarks ahead of this weekend's meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers in Argentina, Ms Lagarde said there were signs that global growth could begin to decline and called on policymakers to prepare.

The International Monetary Fund on Monday called the increasing trade restrictions "the greatest near-term threat" to the world economy.

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Through 2019, the IMF estimated that the world economy should grow by 3.9 per cent but "this may be the high-water mark", Ms Lagarde said in a blog post.

"Already growth is beginning to slow in the Euro Area, Japan, and the United Kingdom," she said, adding that recent US fiscal stimulus would soon wane.

IMF economists prepared a report for the G-20 ministers with simulations showing the worst-case scenario, where all the tariffs threats and retaliation are implemented, and business confidence erodes. This could cut a half point or US$430 billion off global GDP in 2020.

"While all countries will ultimately be worse off in a trade conflict, the US economy is especially vulnerable because so much of its global trade will be subject to retaliatory measures," said Ms Lagarde.

Because US President Donald Trump launched the current trade war, retaliation and negative impact will be focused on the US economy, leaving other regions to continue trading among themselves.

Mr Trump, who said trade wars were "good and easy to win", imposed steep tariffs on all steel and aluminium imports, angering key allies and prompting swift retaliation.

He also hit China with 25 per cent duties on US$34 billion in goods, with another US$16 billion on the way. And US$200 billion more could be targeted as soon as September.

The IMF report to the G-20 presents a range of scenarios showing the subtraction from global GDP is likely to be minor unless Mr Trump imposes blanket tariffs on the US vehicle sector.

Blanket tariffs on the hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign vehicles Americans buy annually would reduce US GDP by 0.6 points in the first year, while Japan would lose 0.2 per centage points, the report showed.

If he follows through on threats to impose 10 per cent duties on an additional US$200 billion in Chinese imports, this could shave 0.2 points off US growth in the first year, according to the IMF.

Ms Lagarde also cited other problems on the horizon, including stuttering emerging market economies, as investors have taken US$14 billion out of the markets between May and June, causing some central banks to raise interest rates.

The capital flight could worsen as the US Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates, making investment in the US more attractive.

She once again urged emerging market authorities to maintain flexible exchange rates, tamp down credit growth and reduce debt levels to prepare themselves.

Furthermore, IMF member countries may not fully appreciate how technology is changing the composition of their labour forces, and how it could worsen inequality.

She said countries should take "bold" steps to modernise their social safety nets, increase education and improve digital infrastructure. AFP