Pacific Rim finance leaders mull ways to curb inflation

BANGKOK (AP) — Finance ministers of major Pacific Rim economies pledged Thursday to combat inflation and target spending to support sustainable growth at a meeting in Bangkok ahead of a summit next month.

Asked about possible disagreements over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Thailand’s finance minister, host of the meeting, acknowledged there were “varying views” among the senior officials of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which includes Russia and many other Asian-Pacific nations.

China, another APEC member, is among countries that have refrained from joining the U.S. and many Western nations in condemning the attack and calling for Russia to withdraw.

But Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the discussions Wednesday and Thursday focused mainly on economic issues and on how to cope with the ramifications of the crisis.

“The only thing we can do is that we understand that the situation has already happened,” Arkhom said. “The consequence of the situation, that’s the thing that we need to work together to resolve, particularly the impact for the majority of the people, especially for the vulnerable groups.”

APEC economies are focused on finding ways to help people cope with prices pushed higher by the fallout from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, he said.

As has often become the case for international meetings where consensus has proven elusive, the finance ministers did not issue a communique as is customary. Instead, Arkhom issued a chairman’s statement.

It cited “unprecedented risk” as central banks roll back stimulus programs and raise interest rates to cool inflation at multi-decade highs.

The tightening of monetary policy comes at a time when one of the biggest drivers of global economic activity, China, is contending with sharply slowing growth and a downturn in its property sector.

It also has driven the value of the U.S. dollar sharply higher against many other currencies. That has raised risks for financial markets, inflating costs of debt repayments and making imports of food, oil and other vital commodities painfully costly for many economies.

On Thursday, the dollar briefly traded above 150 yen, adding to expectations Japan might try to stem its slide beyond a 32-year low by intervening in the market. That’s a far cry from the days when Tokyo faced criticism for seeking to keep the yen from strengthening to gain a competitive price advantage for Japanese exports.

The APEC chair’s statement said members had recognized that “excessive volatility or disorderly movements” in exchange rates can hurt economic and financial stability.

At the same time, they pledged to refrain from adjusting exchange rates “for competitive purposes.”

A Western official who attended the talks but spoke on condition that he not be named in order to brief reporters about the closed-door sessions said that improving the security of supply chains was a major topic in the two-day meeting.

One of the main questions raised was whether multinational corporations would be likely to shift their factories outside of China to other APEC economies to help reduce risk of the kinds of disruptions seen in the past few years due to the pandemic and other issues, the official said.

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