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One on one with Finance Minister Ghali

The G-20 financial experts and ministers say it is essential to support vulnerable developing economies. Youssef Boutros Ghali is Egypt s finance minister. He chairs the IMF s international monetary and financial committee. That s a very posh way of saying the most important committee in the IMF. He says what governments do about the …


The G-20 financial experts and ministers say it is essential to support vulnerable developing economies. Youssef Boutros Ghali is Egypt s finance minister. He chairs the IMF s international monetary and financial committee.

That s a very posh way of saying the most important committee in the IMF. He says what governments do about the crisis is only part of the story, for recovery to happen, there has to be one essential ingredient.

Youssef Boutros Ghali: Confidence, and the root of it is confidence. Consumer confidence, business confidence, confidence at all levels of all markets throughout the world.

And that does not come back overnight. There are necessary conditions, but they are not sufficient. You need to fix your financial system, you can t have sort of toxic assets sort of rotting in the insides of the financial system.

This needs to be fixed. You need to contain the damage that it has done to the real economy. But once both of these things are fixed, there is an issue of confidence. People have to believe that this is it, that now we are looking up and we are going to move up.

This doesn t come overnight.

Richard Quest: If you re right, and you probably put it better – more elegantly than I could, that means that no matter what is done, we cannot expect a turnaround any time soon, because that confidence.

On the contrary, because this is an issue of confidence, you don t know what triggers it. You don t know what triggered it to disappear. And you don t know when the consumer, the businessman, the investor, et cetera, suddenly is going to click and say, ah ha, now things are OK, I m positive about it.

It could happen tomorrow, and we could see three years before it happens.

That s a very depressing prospect.

No. I see it more as a silver lining because it is an issue of confidence, and because we all seem to be doing the right things. It s only a matter of time before it kicks in.

Let s talk about Egypt. On the one hand, your banks haven t been that badly affected because they never got involved in the toxic assets.

That s correct.

You ve had a slight negative effect on the – if you like, on the revenue side. But by and large, you ve not been badly affected. So why.

Yes. We ve not been badly affected yet. It s coming with the lack, our exports are down, tourism is down. Traffic at the Suez Canal reflects international trade. International trade is down by 14, 15, 20 percent.

So Suez Canal receipts are going to be down. So we have a significant decline in foreign receipts, which translate immediately into lesser economic activity, which feeds on itself. And we have a drop in growth.

But you are not in the position where you can go into the market and borrow at the same price as, for example, Alistair Darling can, or Tim Geithner can. If you wanted.

No, neither do I need to. I don t need to go to the international marketplace to borrow. I can borrow locally. And my banks are fine, liquidity is available, I can borrow locally.

My question is, I need to put in a fiscal stimulus. And to do that, I will borrow the money, which means later on somebody is going to have to repay it. And like all developing countries, our finances our OK, but they are at the very edge of OK.

I don t have a margin where I can afford to sort of get carried away. And therefore I have to be careful. We will get out of this, and we will get out of it hopefully soon.

Can you afford a stimulus package of 2 percent?

I can afford it this year, because, as I say, the problem is coming with a lack. So this year I m still OK.

So you re planning to?

I did. I did put 1.5 percent in the past six months. So that s 3 percent on an annual basis. I have to look at what happens next year, it s not sure, I need to maintain fiscal discipline. But I also need to maintain growth.

And don t forget, like all developing countries, I have a poverty problem. When things slow down, when people start being laid off, et cetera, poverty rates increase. And this is one thing I can t afford.

Richard Questis firmly established as an expert on business travel issues and currently works as a CNN anchor and correspondent. His regular programs include ‘CNN Business Traveler’ and in January 2009, Quest launched his own hour-long business show ‘Quest Means Business.

Topics: FJP

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