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Lagarde:Settle Trade Disputes,Cut Debt 04/20 06:29

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The head of the International Monetary Fund is urging 
countries to work out their differences over trade and take advantage of a 
healthy world economy to reduce debt before the next downturn comes.

   IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told reporters that "the near-term 
prospect for the global economy appears to be bright."

   But clouds are already gathering: an intensifying standoff between the 
United States and China that threatens to flare up into the biggest trade 
conflagration since World War II. Record levels of global debt. Financial 
markets that are volatile --- and vulnerable to an unexpectedly steep uptick in 
interest rates.

   For now, the world economy appears to be nestled in a good place: The IMF 
forecasts 3.9 percent growth this year and next, the fastest since 2011, thanks 
to increasing investment and trade. And most of the world is sharing in the 
prosperity, making this the broadest economic expansion in a decade.

   Lagarde warned against complacency: "More needs to be done to sustain this 
upswing and foster long-term growth."

   Her comments came at the opening of the spring meetings of the 189-nation 
IMF and its sister lending organization, the World Bank.

   The three days of talks will also include discussions among the Group of 20 
major economies, which account for more than 80 percent of global economic 
output. The United States is being represented by Treasury Secretary Steven 
Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

   Mnuchin insisted Thursday that the administration's imposition of tariffs on 
steel and aluminum imports and its consideration of penalty tariffs on up to 
$150 billion of Chinese imports were part of a strategy to level the playing 
field on trade and reduce America's huge trade deficits with China and other 

   "Our objective with China is to have free and fair and reciprocal trade," 
Mnuchin said in an interview with the Fox Business Network.

   Lagarde called for talks to ease tensions. Paraphrasing former British Prime 
Minister Winston Churchill, she said: "It is better to jaw jaw than to war war."

   She cautioned that there would be considerable collateral damage in a 
U.S.-China trade war. "The world is so interconnected," she said. "The supply 
chains are involving so many different countries, regional, intraregional, 
interregional, that it would affect the global economy."

   Rising debt levels are also clouding the global outlook. Worldwide debt has 
reached a record $164 trillion, Lagarde said, and advanced economies are 
carrying the biggest government debt burdens in decades.

   Lagarde praised the United States for last year cutting its corporate tax 
rate, one of the world's highest and long seen as a competitive liability for 
corporate America. But she advised Washington to take advantage of good times 
to find ways to narrow the gap between federal spending and federal tax 

   By reducing debt now, she said, countries would have more room to ramp up 
spending or cut taxes to combat the next recession.

   The IMF chief also expressed worries about the fragility of financial 
markets. Stock prices are high. Markets have been volatile, partly because 
investors are rattled by the prospect of a U.S.-China trade war. And the 
Federal Reserve is steadily ratcheting up U.S. interest rates from the record 
low levels where it kept them for most of the decade since the 2008 financial 

   While the Fed has been raising rates at a gradual pace, Lagarde expressed 
concern about the consequences if the Fed had to accelerate the pace of its 
rate hikes. A rapid succession of rate hikes could push down stock prices and 
potentially hurt developing countries that have come to rely on foreign 
investment, she said.


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