The world risks sliding into a 1930s-style slump unless countries settle their differences and work together to tackle Europe’s deepening debt crisis, the head of the International Monetary Fund has warned.
On a day that saw an escalation in the tit-for-tat trade battle between China and the United States and a deepening of the diplomatic rift between Britain and France, Christine Lagarde issued her strongest warning yet about the health of the global economy and said if the international community failed to co-operate the risk was of “retraction, rising protectionism, isolation”.
She added: “This is exactly the description of what happened in the 1930s, and what followed is not something we are looking forward to.”
The IMF managing director’s call came amid growing concern that 2012 will see Europe slide into a double-dip recession, with knock-on effects for the rest of the global economy. “The world economic outlook at the moment is not particularly rosy. It is quite gloomy,” she said.
Since arriving in Washington in the summer, Lagarde has been forced to cut her organisation’s forecasts for global growth next year and is now putting pressure on countries outside the eurozone – including Britain – to play their part in containing Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
An IMF plan, agreed at the Brussels summit last week, involves obtaining €200bn (£168bn) from European countries and then asking the rest of the world to contribute. Beijing has so far proved reluctant to join in a rescue of the eurozone and has said it is up to Europe to sort out its own problems.
Speaking at the State Department in Washington, Lagarde said: “There is no economy in the world, whether low-income countries, emerging markets, middle-income countries or super-advanced economies, that will be immune to the crisis that we see not only unfolding but escalating.
“It is not a crisis that will be resolved by one group of countries taking action. It is going to be hopefully resolved by all countries, all regions, all categories of countries actually taking some action.”
Lagarde said that the scale of the eurozone crisis, and its implications for other countries, meant that Europe’s governments could not tackle it alone. “It is going to require efforts, it is going to require adjustment; and clearly it is going to have to start from the core of the crisis at the moment, which is obviously the European countries, and in particular the countries of the eurozone,” Lagarde said.