Global currency war could get nastier, warns Brazil's Mantega

BRASILIA Fri Feb 8, 2013 8:51pm IST

Brazil's Finance Minister Guido Mantega speaks during an interview with Reuters in Brasilia February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Brazil's Finance Minister Guido Mantega speaks during an interview with Reuters in Brasilia February 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - The global "currency war" could get even worse if Europe joins the fray, says the man widely credited with coining the term.

Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega told Reuters European countries should focus on reviving their economies with more investments, rather than trying to weaken the euro to protects jobs as France has suggested ahead of next week's meeting of G20 economic powers.

"We will continue to have this currency problem unless the global economy takes off," Mantega said in an interview late Thursday. "The solution here is to make their economies more dynamic and jolt them out of stagnation."

More than two years ago Mantega used the term "currency wars" to describe the series of competitive devaluations adopted by rich nations to bolster their exports amid the global slowdown to the detriment of emerging market nations.

Since then Brazil has actively sought to depreciate its currency, the real, to protect local manufacturers of everything from shoes to suits and make its exports more competitive. It has taken bold action to curb speculative capital inflows with higher taxes.

Mantega said that approach was not right for everyone - specially for heavily industrialized nations.

"It is useless for the European Union to try to get out of the crisis by exporting more to the United States, Asia or even Brazil," Mantega said. "We are battling over the scraps. We are elbowing each other to compete in a very restrictive market."

"I think the most important discussion at the G20 will be the return of stimulus policies."

France plans to take its concerns over the euro to the G20 meeting in Moscow, warning that a stronger euro may hinder Europe's painfully slow recovery and ultimately the world's.

French President Francois Hollande added to fears of a renewed global currency war on February 5 when he called for a weaker euro and urged the euro zone to set a mid-term target for its exchange rate.

The euro has strengthen more than 8 percent against the U.S. dollar in the last six months, according to Thomson Reuters data. It is trading close to its strongest level in 15 months against the dollar due to improved sentiment about the eurozone bloc that has led investors to flood back in.

BETTER GLOBAL OUTLOOK

The Italian-born Mantega said European nations should take a cue from Brazil to bolster investment by launching their own infrastructure investment programs.

Despite government efforts to lure investment, the once-booming Brazilian economy continues to crawl at a slower pace than some European countries, growing about 1 percent last year.

But Mantega says an improving global economy should help Brazil regain the impressive growth rates that made it a star among emerging market nations over the last decade.

Mantega said G20 nations agree that risks to the global economy have reduced substantially after a break up of the euro zone was averted and the United States avoided running off a "fiscal cliff" that would have slammed its economy with some $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts.

"The fact is that risks have diminished greatly and that is very positive because it encourages investment," Mantega said. "The global outlook has improved."

He warned that the United States still has to resolve political wrangling over its debt to secure faster growth in the world's largest economy. (Additional reporting by Brian Winter; Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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