From What is Regional Trade Blocs or Free Trade Agreements?
As trade integration across countries is intensifying, we hear more and more about Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Regional Trade Blocs (RTBs). As their name suggests these RTBs/FTAs are arrangements aimed for faster trade liberalisation at regional levels.
Countries are convinced that trade is an engine of growth and they are searching for arrangements that promote trade.
The WTO that contains 162 countries is the most popular one; a truly multilateral forum for trade liberalisation. But the history of WTO led trade liberalisation shows that the organisation is facing difficulty in bringing further trade liberalisation because of conflicting interest among large number of countries.
This has led to interest in trade liberalisation within a limited number of countries that may be regionally close together. These regional trade promoting arrangements advocate more tariff cuts and removal of other restrictions within the group while maintaining restrictions against the rest of the world.
Though many regional trade agreements like the EU, NAFTA and ASEAN were established before or around the time of WTO’s formation, there is mushrooming of RTBs in recent years. Recently formed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) shows this increasing affinity towards RTBs. Many RTBs like the TPP would like to make advanced level trade liberalisation and hence they are not satisfied with the slow pace of trade liberalisation within the WTO.
What are Regional Trade Blocs (RTBs)?
Regional Trade Blocs or Regional Trade Agreements (or Free Trade Agreements) are a type of regional intergovernmental arrangement, where the participating countries agree to reduce or eliminate barriers to trade like tariffs and non-tariff barriers. The RTBs are thus historically known for promoting trade within a region by reducing or eliminating tariff among the member countries.
Over the last few decades, international trade liberalisations are taking place in a serious manner through the formation of RTBs. They are getting wide attention because of many important international developments. First, now the world is trying hard to escape from the ongoing great recession phase. Second is the failure of the WTO to take further liberalisation measures on the trade liberalisation front.
The EU, NAFTA, ASEAN, SAFTA etc are all examples for regional integration. The triad of North America, Western Europe, and Asia Pacific have the most successful trade blocs. Recently signed Trans Pacific Partnership is a powerful RTB. Similarly, another one called RCEP is in negotiation round. India has signed an FTA with the ASEAN in 2009. Simultaneously, the country has signed many bilateral FTAs.
Different types of RTBs
All regional trade blocs don’t have the same degree of trade liberalisation. They may differ in terms of the extent of tariff cutting, coverage of goods and services, treatment of cross border investment among them, agreement on movement of labour etc.
The simple form of regional trade bloc is the Free Trade Area. The Free Trade Area is a type of trade bloc, a designated group of countries that have agreed to eliminate tariffs, quotas and preferences on most (if not all)goods and services traded between them.
From the lowest to the highest, regional trade integration may vary from just tariff reduction arrangement to adoption of a single currency. The most common type of regional trade bloc is the free trade agreement where the members abolish tariffs within the region. Following are the main types of regional economic integrations.
Classification of RTBs
Preferential trading union: Here, two or more countries form a trading club or a union and reduce tariffs on imports of each other ie, when they exchange tariff preferences and concessions.
Free trade union or association: Member countries abolish all tariffs within the union, but maintain their individual tariffs against the rest of the world.
Customs union: countries abolish all tariffs within and adopt a common external tariff against the rest of the world.
Common market: in addition to the customs union, unrestricted movement of all factors of production including labour between the member countries. In the case of European Common Market, once a visa is obtained one can get employed in France or Germany or in any other member country with limited restrictions.
Economic union: The Economic Union is the highest form of economic co-operation. In addition to the common market, there is common currency, common fiscal and monetary policies and exchange rate policies etc. European Union is the example for an Economic Union. Under the European Monetary Union, there is only one currency- the Euro.
At present, out of the total regional trade arrangements FTAs are the most common, accounting for nearly 90 per cent.
From Regionalism in a globalizing world: an Asia-Pacific perspective
From Asia’s Rise in the New World Trade Order
From The world’s free trade areas – and all you need to know about them
International trade is a driving force behind economic growth, and two so-called “mega-regional” trade deals are dominating public debate on the issue: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
But there are around 420 regional trade agreements already in force around the world, according to the World Trade Organization. Although not all are free trade agreements (FTAs), they still shape global trade as we know it.
What exactly are free trade areas?
The OECD defines a free trade area as a group of “countries within which tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers between the members are generally abolished but with no common trade policy toward non-members”.
The free movement of goods and services, both in the sense of geography and price, is the foundation of these trading agreements. However, tariffs are not necessarily completely abolished for all products.
Which are the world’s major free trade areas?
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
Free trade between the three member nations, Canada, the US and Mexico, has been in place since January 1994. Although tariffs weren’t fully abolished until 2008, by 2014 total trilateral merchandise trade exceeded US$1.12 trillion.
According to the US government, trade with Canada and Mexico supports more than 140,000 small and medium-size businesses and over 3 million jobs in the US. Gains in Canada are reportedly even higher, with 4.7 million new jobs added since 1993. The country is also the largest exporter of goods to the US.
However, the Council on Foreign Relations suggests that the impact on Mexico is harder to assess. Per capita income has not risen as fast as expected; nor has it slowed Mexican emigration to the US. However, farm exports to the US have tripled since 1994, and the cost of goods in Mexico has declined. The cost of basic household goods has halved since NAFTA came into force, according to estimates by GEA, a Mexican economic consulting firm.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Area (AFTA)
The AFTA was signed in January 1992 in Singapore. The original members were Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Four countries have subsequently joined: Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
The bloc has largely removed all export and import duties on items traded between the nations. It has also entered into agreements with a number of other nations, including China, eliminating tariffs on around 90% of imported goods.
The AFTA nations had a combined GDP of US$2.3 trillion in 2012, and they’re home to 600 million people. The agreement has therefore helped to dramatically reduce the cost of trade for a huge number of businesses and people.
Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR)
Although MERCOSUR was envisaged as a Latin American single market, enabling the free movement of people, goods, capitals and services, this vision is yet to become reality. Internal disputes have slowed progress towards removing tariffs and the free movement of people and goods.
But MERCOSUR is still one of the world’s leading economic blocs, and has a major influence on South American trade and the global economy.
Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
Formed in December 1994, the organization aims to develop natural and human resources to benefit the region’s population. Its primary focus, according to the United Nations, is to establish a large economic and unit to overcome barriers to trade.
With 19 member states, and an annual export bill in excess of $80 billion, the organization is a significant market place, both within Africa and globally.
COMESA utlimately aims to remove all barriers to intra-regional trade, starting with preferential tariffs and working towards a tariff-free common market and economic union.
What about the European Union?
The EU is a single market, which is similar to a free trade area in that it has no tariffs, quotas or taxes on trade; but a single market allows the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.
The EU strives to remove non-tariff barriers to trade by applying the same rules and regulations to all of its member states. The region-wide regulations on everything from working hours to packaging are an attempt to create a level playing field. This is not necessarily the case in a free trade area.
The creation of the single market was a slow process. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC) or Common Market. However, it was not until 1986 that the Single European Act was signed. This treaty formed the basis of the single market as we know it, as it aimed to establish the free-flow of trade across EU borders. By 1993 this process was largely complete, although work on a single market for services is still ongoing.
Today, the EU is the world’s largest economy, and the biggest exporter and importer. The EU itself has free trade agreements with other nations, including South Korea, Mexico and South Africa.
What about the TPP and TTIP?
Once fully ratified, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is set to become the world’s largest trade agreement. The TPP already covers 40% of global GDP, and trade between member nations is already significant.
However, by removing tariffs and other barriers to trade, the agreement hopes to further develop economic ties and boost economic growth.
Global Financial Safety Net: Regional Reserve Pools and Currency Swap Networks of Central Banks
You can read this post from two perspectives
Geo Strategic (International Financial and Economic Architecture)
Financial and Economic stability / Macro-prudential Policy
Recent Financial Crisis has exposed the fact that global financial liquidity can be in shortage. Since US Dollar is the global currency and is used in more that 40 percent of all financial transactions globally.
Asian Countries faced dollar shortage during 1997-1998 asian financial crisis. Recent Global Financial crisis caused dollar shortage in advanced countries. US Central Bank Federal Reserve responded by setting up currency swap lines with central banks of other countries. These swap lines were made permanent in 2013.
After Asian financial crisis in 1997, many countries in developing world started accumulating FX reserves. There was also a swap agreement (known as Chiang Mai Initiative) which was set up between ASEAN countries in south east Asia.
Nations also go to IMF to get conditional financing which they do not like to do. New Trend is toward regional pooling of financial resources. Latest example is BRICS CRA.
Even advanced economies such as EU have established European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
Chiang Mai Initiative has been revamped as Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralism (CMIM).
Financial and Economic Stability / Macro Prudential Policy
A. Reserve Pools
Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI)
Chiang Mai Initiative Multi-Lateralism (CMIM)
BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA)
European Stability Mechanism (ESM)
B. Currency Swap Lines
Federal Reserve Central Bank US Dollar Swap Lines
PBOC China Central bank RMB Swap Lines
D. Self Insurance
Nation’s Foreign Exchange (FX) Reserves
From The decentralised global monetary system requires an efficient safety net
The global financial safety net as a set of protection mechanisms
The current decentralised system also lacks a central authority that is actively integrated and, above all, contractually bound into the maintenance of the monetary system by providing temporary liquidity, such as the IMF in the Bretton Woods system. Instead, various protection mechanisms have evolved because the current system has not led to greater external stability of national economies and the global economy. The problem of volatile capital flows became particularly clear once again in the course of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. For emerging market economies, the warning of a sudden reversal of capital flows has been omnipresent ever since the Asian crisis. However, the last crisis has demonstrated that even for industrialised countries their developed financial markets are a significant contagion mechanism for crisis developments. The following are regarded as key elements of the global financial safety net:11
International reserves. These include official foreign exchange and gold reserves as well as claims on inter-national financial institutions such as the IMF that can be rapidly converted into foreign currency under the countries’ own responsibility. •
Bilateral swap arrangements between central banks. In a currency swap two central banks agree to exchange currency amounts, e.g. US dollars for euros. They agree on a fixed date in the future on which they will reverse the transaction applying the same exchange rate. During the term central banks can make foreign currency loans to private banks. •
IMF programmes and regional financing arrangements (e.g. European Stability Mechanism, Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation Agreement, BRICs CRA, Arab Monetary Fund, Latin American Reserve Fund). They make financial resources available to the members to tackle balance of payments difficulties, manage crises and prevent regional contagion effects. Depending on their design, they may impose conditions and requirements for economic policy measures on the recipient countries. Some regional programmes require a combination with IMF funds.
The most important element of the protection mechanisms: international reserves
International reserves are by far the largest element of the global safety net.12 The lack of predictability and robustness of other elements has led to an over-accumulation of reserves. After the Asian crisis, upper middle income countries in particular built up reserves. While China holds a major portion of the reserves in this group of countries, all other countries also boosted their reserves significantly. As a result of central bank interventions in the foreign exchange market, reserves have decreased since the year 2013.
The renaissance of bilateral swap arrangements
Bilateral swap arrangements were used by the US Treasury as early as in 1936 to supply developing countries with bridging loans. During the Bretton Woods period, the Fed introduced a network of swap lines known as reciprocal currency arrangements to prevent a sudden and substantial withdrawal of gold by official foreign institutions.13 A swap protected foreign central banks from the exchange rate risk when they had obtained excess and unwanted dollar positions. It allowed them to dispense with the temporary conversion of dollars into gold. Between 1973 and 1980, the swap lines were used instead of US currency reserves to finance interventions by the Fed in the foreign exchange market. Gains and losses were shared with the other central bank when the Fed drew on a line. However, the G10 central banks could try to use the swap arrangements to influence the US foreign currency market interventions, so the Fed stopped using them in the mid-1980s. All existing swap lines except those with Canada and Mexico were ended in 1998. After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the Fed established swap lines with the European Central Bank and the Bank of England for 30 days and expanded the existing line with the Bank of Canada. Currency swaps were used here for the first time to restore liquidity in financial markets. During the global financial crisis, the Fed then financed the lender-of-last-resort actions of other central banks in industrialised and emerging market economies, with the latter assuming the credit risk. The international reserves of many central banks at the start of the crisis were smaller than the amounts they borrowed under the swap lines. In 2013 the swap arrangements between the six most important central banks were converted into standing arrangements. All these swap arrangements have one thing in common: they signal the central banks’ willingness to cooperate with each other, whether it be in defence of the parities under the Bretton Woods system, to avert speculative attacks on the Fed, or with the aim of providing dollar liquidity during the financial crisis. China has also set up a far-reaching system of swap arrangements, mainly with the aim of pushing ahead with the internationalisation of the renminbi. But from the perspective of these central banks, the agreements with the Bank of England, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the ECB also serve the goal of being able to provide renminbi liquidity in their area of responsibility when needed Swaps represent a powerful and flexible tool of central banks that issue reserve currencies to regulate international capital flows. Central banks are the only institutions capable of changing their balance sheets quickly enough to keep pace with the volatility of international capital flows. Swaps are unsuitable, however, for longer-lasting crises, sovereign debt crises and to finance balance of payments imbalances. That is why they would be the most suitable tool for emerging market economies, as they are more likely to face abrupt changes in capital flows. Nevertheless, so far only the most important central banks that issue reserve currencies have been able to access unlimited swaps. Granting them is determined by the mandate of the central banks and they represent contractual, not institutional agreements. Accordingly, the central banks are able to choose their contractual partners, and there is no central independent authority to supervise swap arrangements. The swap arrangements for central banks in industrial countries that do not issue a reserve currency can therefore be expected to be reinstated in the event of a global shock, while they are less likely to be employed in case of a regional shock. Their use is even less predictable for systemic emerging market economies.
Growth of Global Financial Safety Net
Features of Instruments in the Global Financial Safety net
Use of GFSN in various shock Scenarios
Balance of Payment shock
Banking Sector FX Liquidity shock
Sovereign Debt shock
US Dollar Swap Lines
These six central banks have permanent US Dollar swap lines since 2013.
USA (Fed Reserve),
During the global financial crisis, the Federal Reserve extended swap arrangements to 14 other central banks. The ECB drew very heavily, followed by the BoJ. At one point during the crisis in 2009, outstanding swaps amounted to more than $580 billion and represented about one-quarter of the Fed’s balance sheet. The novel element of this effort was the extension of swaps to four countries outside the usual set of advanced-country central banks: Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and Singapore.16 Mexico previously had a standing swap facility with the Federal Reserve by virtue of geographic proximity and the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the new arrangement expanded the amount that Mexico’s central bank could draw and the Fed’s swaps with Brazil, South Korea and Singapore broke new ground. The swaps in general were credited with preventing a more serious seizing up of interbank lending and financial markets during 2008 to 2009 (Helleiner 2014, 38–45; Prasad 2014, 202–11; IMF 2013a; 2014a, Box 2). The Federal Reserve board of governors considered the “boundary” question at length, torn between opening itself up to additional demands for coverage from emerging markets and creating stigma against those left outside the safety net. Fed officials used economic size and connections to international financial markets as the main criteria for selecting Brazil, Mexico, Singapore and South Korea. Chile, Peru, Indonesia, India, Iceland and likely others also requested swaps but were denied. The governors wanted to deflect requests by additional countries to the IMF, which coordinated its announcement of the SLF with the Fed’s announcement of the additional swaps at the end of October 2008. Governors and staff saw in this tiering a natural division of labour that coincided with the resources and analytical capacity of the Fed and IMF.17 The ECB extended swaps to Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark, in addition to its arrangement with the United States. The BoJ extended swaps as well, notably to South Korea after the Federal Reserve announced its Korean swap. The PBoC began to conclude a set of swap agreements with Asian and non-Asian central banks that would eventually number more than 20 and amount to RMB 2.57 trillion. Only those swaps with the central banks of Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are known to have been activated (Zhang 2015, 5). Boosting the role of the renminbi in international trade was the express objective of these swaps, although their establishment also helped to secure market confidence during unsettled times. The proliferation of swaps resulted in a set of star-shaped networks of agreements among central banks that were linked by Fed liquidity (Allen and Moessner 2010). Although a number of the swaps in the network were activated, only those swaps of the Federal Reserve were heavily used during the crisis. The “fortunate four” emerging market countries among the Fed 14 were each covered for amounts up to $30 billion, but only temporarily. When the Fed later declined to renew the swaps, these countries became as vulnerable to liquidity shortfalls as the others. So, when South Korea took the chair of the G20 in 2010, its government proposed that the central bank swaps be multilateralized on a more permanent basis. It argued this would be increasingly necessary to stabilize the global financial system and would be in the interest of swap providers and recipients alike. Specifically, during the preparations for the G20 summit, South Korean officials proposed that the advanced-country central banks provide swaps to the IMF, which would conduct due diligence and provide liquidity to qualifying central banks. In this way, the global community could mobilize enough resources to address even a massive liquidity crunch and central banks would avoid credit risk.
In late 2013, six key-currency central banks made their temporary swap arrangements permanent standing facilities. Each central bank entered into a bilateral arrangement with the five others, comprising a network of 30 such agreements.18 But they prefer to maintain a constructive ambiguity with respect to whether they would re-extend swap arrangements to the other central banks that were covered during the global financial crisis, including Brazil, Mexico,19 South Korea and Singapore (Papadia 2013).
During the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, Federal Reserve extended USD swap lines to several central banks. The financial institutions in these countries faced USD shortages as the normal channels of money markets froze during crisis.
US Dollar Swap amounts extended during 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis
China RMB Swap Lines
During the 2007-8 global financial crisis, the international monetary system experienced an acute US dollar shortage that severely curtailed global trade and pressured international banking business (McCauley and McGuire, 2009; McGuire and von Peter, 2009). The US authorities, in response to the elevated strain in the global market, have arranged dollar swap lines with major central banks to mitigate the global dollar squeeze (Aizenman and Pasricha, 2010; Aizenman, Jinjarak and Park, 2011). On Thursday, October 31, 2013, the network of central banks comprises the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank agreed to convert their bilateral liquidity swap arrangements to standing arrangements until further notice.1 The dollar squeeze critically illustrated the danger of operating a US-centric global financial system. Against this backdrop, China has actively implemented measures of promoting the cross-border use of the Chinese currency, the renminbi (RMB), to reduce its reliance on the US dollar. The aggressive policy move was considered a clear signal of China’s efforts to internationalize RMB (Chen and Cheung, 2011; Cheung, Ma and McCauley, 2011). In 2009, China launched the scheme of cross-border trade settlement in RMB to encourage the denomination and settlement of international trade in its own currencies. One practical issue of settling trade in RMB is the limited availability of the currency outside China. China at that time had strict regulations on circulating the RMB across its border. To facilitate its RMB trade settlement initiative, China signed its first bilateral RMB local currency swap agreement with the Bank of Korea in December 2008, and the second one with Hong Kong in January 2009. Since then, China has signed various swap agreements with economies around the world.2
The 5th and 6th BRICS summits in 2013–2014 marked a watershed in the evolution of the BRICS group with the establishment of the first BRICS institutions. These included the BRICS New Development Bank, the CRA, the BRICS Business Council and the Think Tanks Council. Although this has weakened the ‘political talk shop’ perception of the group, critics have questioned whether these institutions will have a substantive effect. In particular, doubts have been cast upon the effectiveness of the CRA.
The CRA is modest in size in comparison to the IMF and other similar arrangements such as the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM). At this stage the BRICS countries have committed $100 billion to the CRA, with China committing $41 billion, Russia, Brazil and India $18 billion each and South Africa $5 billion. The CMIM reportedly has a reserve pool of $240 billion and the IMF resources of $780 billion. It has been noted that with BRICS’s foreign reserves standing at about $5 trillion, a commitment of 16% would take the CRA pool to $800 billion.
From GLOBAL AND REGIONAL FINANCIAL SAFETY NETS: LESSONS FROM EUROPE AND ASIA
ASEAN +3 CMIM
ASEAN + Japan Korea China
The embryo of an Asian regional safety net arrangement has existed since 1977, when the five founding members of the ASEAN signed the ASEAN Swap Arrangement (ASA)5. Following the Asian crisis and after aborted discussion on the creation of an Asian Monetary Fund, Japan launched the New Miyazawa Initiative in October 1998 amounting to about $35 billion, which was targeted at stabilising the foreign exchange markets of Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand6. The initiative was particularly valuable in containing instability in Malaysia’s financial sector, since that country had refused an IMF Stand-By Arrangement. The Japanese manoeuvre was deemed somewhat mutinous, since the IMF was very critical of Malaysia’s approach. But it also cemented the idea that Asia could gather enough resources to sandbag itself during a crisis period so long as Asian countries were united and managed to roll out timely and credible support mechanisms. In Asian countries under IMF programmes, the conditionality associated with the loans included severe fiscal cuts, deep structural reforms, and substantial increases in interest rates to stabilise currency markets. The economic and social cost of the adjustment was so high and abrupt that it provoked social unrest in a number of countries. This would reverberate strongly in the months that followed and leave a lasting scar in relations between Asian countries and the IMF7. This experience fuelled both a willingness to self-insure through accelerated reserve accumulation and to strengthen regional arrangements to reduce the reliance on global financial safety nets. Building on this lesson, the CMI was formalised in May 2000 during the ASEAN+3 Finance Ministers Meeting8. It largely built on the original ASA and bilateral swap agreements involving the PRC, Japan, and the Republic of Korea but was grounded in a broader programme that also included developing Asia’s local currency bond market and introduced a regional economic review and policy dialogue to enhance the region’s surveillance mechanism (Kawai and Houser 2007). The initiative included the new ASEAN members, increasing the total number of parties to the arrangement from 5 to 10. Table A.1 in the appendix highlights the evolution of the CMI. The question of cooperation between the CMI and the IMF quickly became quite heated, with a number of countries arguing that strong ties to the Fund would defeat the initial purpose of the initiative (Korea Institute of Finance, 2012), but the ties were kept nonetheless both to mitigate moral hazard (Sussangkarn, 2011) and to ensure some consistency with conditionality attached to the IMF’s own programmes. After the formal creation of the CMI in 2000, the era of Great Moderation that followed to some degree doused further ambitions to strengthen regional arrangements. As a result, when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, the Asian regional financial safety net proved too modest to play a meaningful role.
Indeed, instead of seeking support under CMI, the Bank of Korea and the Monetary Authority of Singapore sought a swap agreement with the US Federal Reserve for some $30 billion each. The Republic of Korea concluded bilateral agreements with Japan and the PRC that were not related to the CMI. Similarly, Indonesia established separate bilateral swap lines with Japan and the PRC to shore up its crisis buffer and did not resort to the CMI for credit support (Sussangkarn, 2011). The plan to consolidate the bilateral swap arrangements and form a single, more solid, and effective reserve pooling mechanism – which had initially been put forward by the finance ministers of the ASEAN+3 in May 2007 in Kyoto – was accelerated and evolved in several iterations before the final version was laid out more than two years later. In December 2009, the CMI was multilateralised and the ASEAN+3 representatives signed the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM) Agreement, which effectively became binding on March 24, 2010 (BSP, 2012). These successive transformations have strengthened the initiative, but it remains largely untested. In addition, other aspects of any credible regional financial arrangement, such as surveillance capacity and coordination of some basic economic policies, remain relatively embryonic.
From GLOBAL AND REGIONAL FINANCIAL SAFETY NETS: LESSONS FROM EUROPE AND ASIA
The history of European financial safety nets cannot be dissociated from the history of European monetary integration. With this perspective in mind, it dates back to the late 1960s and has been an ongoing debate to this day. The history of European political integration at every turn is marked by failed projects or actual mechanisms of financial solidarity, ranging from loose exchange rate arrangements to the project of a full-fledged European Monetary Fund. The advent of the monetary union was precisely designed to reduce the need for financial safety nets within the euro area. But the architectural deficiencies of the euro area and the lack of internal transfers have required the establishment of alternative mutual insurance mechanisms since the onset of the euro crisis in 2010. In 2008, when the global financial crisis hit, Hungary had accumulated important external imbalances and large foreign exchange exposures. It had to seek financial assistance almost immediately and initiated contacts with the IMF. The total absence of coordination with European authorities came as an initial shock because it showed that despite decades of intense economic, political, and monetary integration, EU countries could still come to require international financial assistance. The experience pushed European institutions to unearth a forgotten provision of the Maastricht Treaty to provide financial assistance through the Balance of Payments Assistance Facility9. This created preliminary and at first ad-hoc coordination between the IMF and the European Commission, which was then rediscovering design and monitoring of macroeconomic adjustment programmes. Despite the rapid use of this facility and the emergence of a framework of cooperation with the IMF, contagion from the global financial crisis continued for months and prompted some Eastern European leaders to seek broader and more pre-emptive support10, which failed. However, beyond official sector participation, there was a relatively rapid realisation that cross-border banking and financial retrenchment could become a major source of financial disruption and effectively propagate the crisis further – including back to the core of Europe, as large European banks were heavily exposed to Eastern Europe through vast and dense networks of branches and subsidiaries. In response, in late February 2009, under the leadership of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the World Bank decided to establish what was known as the Vienna Initiative. This was designed as a joint multilateral and private sector coordination and enforcement mechanism to reduce the risk of banking sector sudden stops. In particular, it compelled cross-border European banks to continue to provide appropriate liquidity to their branches and subsidiaries in Central and Eastern Europe. The formalisation of such an arrangement11 quite early in the crisis has certainly proven the case for coordination of financial institutions in emerging-market economies, especially when a relatively small number of institutions have a disproportionate impact on capital flows. But with the crisis spreading to the euro area, starting with Greece in the fall of 2010, new regional arrangements proved necessary. The lack of instruments forced European officials to first consider bilateral assistance from member states. The idea of involving the IMF was initially violently rejected 9 on intellectual and political grounds12 but proved inevitable. In a number of successive iterations, more solid regional arrangements were designed (Bijlsma and Vallée 2012). Table A.2 in the appendix shows the evolution of European regional financial safety nets.
List of Regional Financial Agreements (RFA)
Bilateral Currency Swaps
IMF SDR Basket
FX Swap Networks
Global Financial Safety Nets (GFSN)
Foreign Exchange Reserves
Regional Financial Agreements (RFA)
Regional Financial Networks (RFN)
Bilateral Currency Swap Agreement (BSA)
RMB (Renminbi also known as Yuan)
International Lender of Last Resort (ILOLR)
Regional Financial Safety Net (RFSN)
Multilateral Financial Safety Net (MFSN)
National Financial Safety Net (NFSN)
Key Sources of Research:
Self-Insurance, Reserve Pooling Arrangements, and Pre-emptive Financing
Regional Reserve Pooling Arrangements
Suman S. Basu Ran Bi
First Draft: 8 February, 2010 This Draft: 7 June, 2010
Evolving Networks of Regional RTGS Payment and Settlement Systems
Globalization has created incentives for nations to form regional economic unions to take advantage of scale and resource pooling.
There are a lot of efforts underway to develop and implement regional RTGS between central banks. There are several models for integration.
Many States, Many Currencies – Hong Kong SAR
Many States, Single Currency – EU uses EURO and Central America uses USD, SADC uses South African RAND
RTGS systems designed to facilitate such economic integration.
RTGS – RTGS – Interlink model – Hong Kong, ASEAN 5
RTGS-RTGS – SSP Single Shared Platform model – EU
From Payment System Interoperability and Oversight: The International Dimension
Several factors may prompt the international interlinking of PSIs. In most cases, linking national PSIs to achieve international interoperability of certain payment services comes from a country’s decisions to exploit the benefits of international economic and financial integration (i.e., greater international trade and investment activities, attraction of foreign investment capital, risk diversification, and deepening and broadening domestic financial and capital markets), since integration requires economic units to have convenient access to cross-border payment service facilities. A powerful driver to regional PSI interlinking is constituted by the political agreements among countries in a region on a broad, long-term economic and financial development cooperative program. Usually, in this case, the efforts to link payment system (as well as other financial market) infrastructures are supported actively by a core group of countries in organized regional development policy and planning forums.5 In some cases, interlinking may result from decisions by national financial authorities to address the demand from market participants (and/or their customers, including asset managers, other securities servicers, and other types of businesses) for cross-border access to international markets at lower end-to-end transaction costs.
Cross-border transactions can be made possible by establishing bilateral links between national PSIs.8 Perhaps the simplest form of PSI interlinking is achieved when two central banks agree on a scheme to support or facilitate cross-border transactions. This likely requires linking the large-value transfer systems of the countries involved by developing technical interfaces between them. Some other solutions are possible which link national payment systems through central bank bilateral accounts, whereby participating central banks hold settlement accounts either with one another or with a common commercial bank.
More advanced solutions for PSI interlinking are characterized by the adoption of a unified scheme and a common technical-operational facility to process the transactions defined under the scheme. The common (regional or global) technical-operational facility follows one of two basic architectures: the decentralized model, or the single or fully centralized model. Arrangements adopting a decentralized model for regional, cross-regional and/or global payments link existing national settlement systems (Figure 1). These normally feature different degrees of sophistication and complexity. Most decentralized regional payment systems are designed in a “hub-spoke” structure, in which there is a central administrative and technical-operational facility referred to as the “hub entity”, which links the participating systems.9 The interlinking mechanism is usually a standardized messaging and connectivity technology, which links account management and the various national operating systems together, while participants access the hub entity through the national settlement infrastructure of their jurisdiction.
In the centralized platform model, the national payment system infrastructures are replaced by a single international system (Figure 2). In this case, it is more appropriate to talk about international payment system integration. Participants access the system directly through the relevant telecommunications network or indirectly through any direct participant in the system. Centralized platforms are mostly identified with international integration projects, most notably regional, which have evolved into monetary unions with the use of a regional currency. They minimize or even eliminate the distinction between cross-border and domestic payments, and allow for processing both types of transactions in the same system seamlessly.
Various examples illustrate the different technical modalities of interlinking discussed above. One example of bilateral links between national payment systems is the linking of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s U.S. dollar real-time gross settlement (RTGS) system with the RTGS systems of other central banks in the region, specifically Bank Negara Malaysia’s RENTAS and Bank Indonesia’s BI-RTGS. These systems operate on a common operating platform. Their links, which are independent from each other, allow payment-versus-payment settlement between the national currencies of those countries and the U.S. dollar. Other illustrative examples are the East African Payments System (EAPS), which shows the case of national payment systems linked through the holding of bilateral accounts among central banks, and the Sistema de Pagos en Moneda Local involving the national RTGS systems of Argentina and Brazil, which is an example of the national payment systems linked through their respective central banks which hold settlement accounts with a common commercial bank. Currently, two SML systems are operational: one linking the RTGS systems of Argentina and Brazil, and other linking the RTGS systems of Brazil and Uruguay.
Other cases exemplify the decentralized and centralized models of international payment system integration. Schemes with a decentralized settlement system involving multiple parties have been developed in regions where there is a regional currency, as well as for settling cross-border payments denominated in a single foreign currency. The most well-known example of a unified scheme with a decentralized settlement system for a regional currency was the original TARGET in Europe, which linked the Euro RTGS systems of EU national central banks. Another example is the Sistema de Interconexión de Pagos in Central America and the Dominican Republic, which uses a decentralized architecture for settling cross-border payments in U.S. dollars.11
With regard to the centralized model of PSI interlinking (or integration), relevant examples are TARGET2 and EURO1 supporting euro denominated payments in the European Union,12 the STAR-UEMOA for the West African CFA Franc throughout the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and the RTGS system of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) for the EC dollar in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. Over the past decade, centralized payment system infrastructures have also been developed regionally, where no regional currency existed, to facilitate settlement of domestic, regional, and cross-regional payments in more than one settlement currency (e.g., RAPID in the United Arab Emirates, and CHATS in Hong Kong). Finally, an example of a unified global system for settlements denominated in multiple currencies is CLS Bank International, which links the national RTGS systems of the participating jurisdictions/currencies, with a strong reliance on the legal agreement of the rulebook and the technical standards.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional payment integration project in the Southern African region captures aspects of a centralized model. The project develops on the International Payments Framework (IPF) concept to construct a regional payment infrastructure composed of a regional automated clearing house (ACH) and settlement system.14 The current architecture consists of the SADC Integrated Regional Electronic Settlement System (SIRESS), an electronic central system that facilitates cross border trade in the SADC region. SIRESS, and excludes domestic inter-bank payments and settlements. It allows participating banks to settle regional transactions denominated in South African Rand (ZAR) within SADC countries, on an RTGS basis. The system is operated by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) on behalf of the SADC Committee of Central Bank Governors, with SARB also acting as the ZAR settlement bank. It is a safe and efficient payment/settlement system which reduces the cost to banks since there is no correspondent bank (intermediary) involved.15 The project should eventually evolve into a single regional payment settlement infrastructure, in tandem with the planned monetary union.
The prototypal regional systems for retail payments were multilateral arrangements governed by service agreements and operational protocols of limited standardization between participating banks in different countries. For example, TIPANET, which was designed as a cross-border retail payment service for credit transfers between cooperative banks in Europe and Canada, provided participating members with somewhat lower cost and faster payment delivery than the usual correspondent banking arrangements of that time.16 The widespread growth of credit and debit card payment schemes since the late 1980s provided a second wave of regional and crossregional PSI linkages and integration.
Some regional cross-border arrangements have developed across direct (horizontal) linkages between national schemes. This is the case of the arrangement linking the Interac debit card system in Canada, the NYCE Payments Network and PULSE systems in the United States, and Union Pay in China for access by the schemes’ cardholders to the cross-border debit and ATM networks. Global card payment schemes such as VISA and MasterCard provide cross-border interoperability in transaction systems for credit and debit payments and ATM cash withdrawals for cardholders and (vertical) integration of these systems with proprietary clearing and settlement systems. As global card payment schemes, they deal with domestic, regional, and cross-regional payments.17
Regional and cross-regional interlinking of national and funds transfer systems in general is a fairly recent development. Some, such as EBA Clearings’ STEP2 in Europe and SICA-UMEOA in the West African Monetary and Economic Union, are single regional schemes and systems for both domestic and cross-border payments among member countries using the euro and the CFA franc, respectively. Others are generally constructed through (horizontal) bilateral linkages between national ACHs. These linkages allow the ACH members in one country to transmit customer payments, typically via credit transfers, to end-receivers holding accounts with ACH members in other countries. The network architecture for regionally or cross-regionally linked payment clearing infrastructure and for single regional ACHs can be either a hub-spoke arrangement with a central hub connection, a centralized network structure, or a distributed bilateral network structure, which contemplates the operation of large providers of payment clearing and processing services (Box 1). Another example, in Europe, is the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) scheme compliant clearing and settlement mechanisms (CSMs). Services offered by competing CSMs, based on the SEPA payment schemes, are governed by market forces and are outside the remit of the European Payments Council (EPC). The EU regulation provides that, within the EU, a PSP reachable for a national euro credit transfer or direct debit shall be reachable for euro credit transfers or direct debits initiated through a PSP located in any member state. Any PSP participating in any of the EPC SEPA Schemes (SEPA Credit Transfer, SEPA Direct Debit), under the relevant scheme adherence agreement with the EPC and the relevant EPC SEPA Scheme Rulebook, is permanently obligated to comply with reachability from its readiness date. Each PSP needs to determine how to achieve full reachability for the EPC SEPA Scheme(s) it has adhered to. There are several ways for PSPs to send and receive euro payment transactions to and from other PSPs across SEPA. PSPs can choose and use any solution or combination of solutions, directly or indirectly, as long as reachability and compliance with the EPC SEPA Schemes are effectively ensured.
Main Regions with Regional RTGS Systems
Hong Kong SAR
West Africa – WAMZ
East Africa – EAPS
South Africa (SADC) – SIRESS
ASEAN AEC – ASEAN 5 RTGS
Central America – USD based RTGS – SIP
Since the establishment of the European Economic Community in 1958 there has been a progressive movement towards a more integrated European financial market. This movement has been marked by several events. In the field of payments, the most visible were the launch of the euro in 1999 and the cash changeover in the euro area countries in 2002.
The establishment of the large-value central bank payment system TARGET was less visible, but also of great importance. It formed an integral part of the introduction of the euro and facilitated the rapid integration of the euro area money market.
A unique feature of TARGET2 is the fact that its payment services in euro are available across a geographical area which is larger than the euro area. National central banks which have not yet adopted the euro also have the option to participate in TARGET2 to facilitate the settlement of transactions in euro. When new Member States join the euro area the participation in TARGET2 becomes mandatory. The use of TARGET2 is mandatory for the settlement of any euro operations involving the Eurosystem.
As of February 2016, 25 central banks of the EU and their respective user communities are participating in, or connected to, TARGET2:
The 20 euro area central banks (including the ECB) and
five central banks from non-euro area countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Poland and Romania.
Hong Kong RTGS System
Hong Kong’s financial infrastructure is designed to cater for cross-border as well as domestic economic activities. Links with payment systems and debt securities systems in other economies provide an easily accessible payment and settlement platform for cross-border economic transactions and financial intermediation.
Links with Guangdong (including Shenzhen) – Launched in phases since January 1998, these links cover cross-border RTGS payments in Hong Kong dollars and US dollars, and cheque clearing in Hong Kong dollars, US dollars and renminbi, with Guangdong Province including Shenzhen.1 The use of these links, which helps expedite payments and remittances between Hong Kong and Guangdong, has been rising gradually with the increasing economic integration between Hong Kong and the Mainland.
Cross-border payment arrangements with Mainland – Cross-border payment arrangements involving the Mainland’s Domestic Foreign Currency Payment System were established in March 2009 to facilitate foreign currency funding and liquidity management of Mainland banks and commercial payments. The cross-border payment arrangements currently cover four currencies – the Hong Kong dollar, US dollar, euro and British pound.
Link with Macau – The one-way joint clearing facility for Hong Kong dollar and US dollar cheques between Hong Kong and Macau was launched in August 2007 and June 2008 respectively, reducing the time required for clearing Hong Kong dollar and US dollar cheques drawn on banks in Hong Kong and presented in Macau from four or five days to two.
Link with Malaysia – A link between the Ringgit RTGS system in Malaysia (the RENTAS system) and the US dollar RTGS system in Hong Kong came into operation in November 2006. The link helps eliminate settlement risk by enabling PvP settlements of foreign exchange transactions in ringgit and US dollars during Malaysian and Hong Kong business hours. This is the first cross-border PvP link between two RTGS systems in the region.
Link with Indonesia – The PvP link between Hong Kong’s US dollar RTGS system and Indonesia’s Rupiah RTGS system was launched in January 2010. The link helps eliminate settlement risk by enabling PvP settlements of foreign exchange transactions in Rupiah and US dollars during Indonesian and Hong Kong business hours.
Link with the Continuous Linked Settlement (CLS) system – The CLS system, operated by CLS Bank International, is a global clearing and settlement system for cross-border foreign exchange transactions. It removes settlement risk in these transactions by settling them on a PvP basis. The Hong Kong dollar joined the CLS system in 2004.
Regional CHATS – This is an extension of the RTGS systems in Hong Kong in the regional context. Regional payments in Hong Kong dollars, US dollars, euros and renminbi can use the RTGS platform in Hong Kong to facilitate cross border/cross bank transfers in those currencies.
Link with Thailand
In 2014, Hong Kong started operating PvP link between HK’s US dollar RTGS system and Thailand’s BAHT RTGS system.
US FEDWIRE RTGS System
This is surprisingly subtle.
When, for instance, when bank A in the Richmond Federal Reserve district sends $1000 in reserves to bank B in the Minneapolis Federal Reserve district, reserves are taken out of bank A’s account at the Richmond Fed and placed into bank B’s account at the Minneapolis Fed.
Now, bank A’s reserves are a liability on the books of the Richmond Fed, while bank B’s reserves are a liability on the books of the Minneapolis Fed. Without any offsetting change, therefore, the process would result in the Richmond Fed discharging a liability and the Minneapolis Fed gaining a liability – and if this continued, regional Fed assets and liabilities could become highly mismatched.
The principle, then, is that there should be an offsetting swap of assets. It would be too complicated to swap actual assets every time there is a flow of reserves between banks in different districts. (There’s over $3 trillion in transactions every day on Fedwire, the Fed’s RTGS system – and if even a fraction of those are between different districts, the amounts are really enormous.) Instead, in the short run the regional Feds swap accounting entries in an “Interdistrict Settlement Account” (ISA). In the example above, the Minneapolis Fed’s ISA position would increase by $1000, while the Richmond Fed’s ISA position would decrease by $1000, to offset the transfer of liabilities.
So far, this is all very similar to the controversial TARGET2 system in the Euro area, in which large balances between national banks have recently been accumulating. The American system is different, however, because ISA entries are eventually settled via transfers of assets. Every April, the average ISA balance for each regional Fed over the past year is calculated, and this portion of the balance is settled via a transfer of assets in the System Open Market Account (the main pile of Fed assets, run by the New York Fed). Hence, if in April the Minneapolis Fed has an ISA balance of +$500, but over the past year it had an average balance of +$2000, its balance is decreased (by $2000) to -$1500, and it has an offsetting gain of $2000 in SOMA assets.
As this example shows, since it is average balances over the past year that are settled, not the current balances, ISA balances do not necessarily go to zero every April. Historically, they were fairly tiny anyway, but since QE brought dramatic increases in reserves, these balances have sometimes been large and irregular. In the long run, though, the system prevents any persistent imbalances from accumulating.
(Note: the process in April is a little bit more complicated than I describe, since some minor transfers of gold certificate holdings are also involved. Basically, gold certificates are transferred between regional Feds to maintain a constant ratio of gold certificates to federal reserve notes; the transfers of SOMA assets are adjusted to account for this. Wolman’s recent piece for the Richmond Fed is one of the few sources that describes the system in detail.)
EAC Payment and Settlement Systems Integration Project (EAC-PSSIP)
The East African Community Secretariat has received financing from the African Development Fund (ADF) toward the cost of the establishment of EAC Payment and Settlement Systems Integration Project (EAC- PSSIP) and intends to apply part of the agreed amount for this grant to payments under the contract for Audit Services for the EAC Payment and Settlement Systems Integration Project (EAC-PSSIP).
The EAC-PSSIP is an integral part of the EAC Financial Sector Development and Regionalisation Project’s (FSDRP) higher objective of broadening and deepening the financial sector and is aimed at complementing the integration of the regional financial market infrastructure to facilitate the undertaking of cross border funds transfer in support of the economies of the region as a whole. The project objective is to contribute to the modernization, harmonization and regional integration of payment and settlement systems.
The project specifically aims at: enhancing convergence and regional integration of payment and settlement systems; and strengthening a harmonized legislative and regulatory financial sector capacity in the Partner States. The Project is structured under the following components: Component 1: Integration of Financial Market Infrastructure; Component 2: Harmonization of Financial Laws and Regulations; and Component 3: Capacity Building.
The project commenced its operation in January, 2014 and it was officially launched in March, 2014.
Towards A Single Currency
The latest development is the 2013 Monetary Union protocol, which sets out the terms for the introduction of a single currency by 2024. The IMF has stated that greater integration is “expected to help sustain strong economic growth and improve economic efficiency. A larger regional market will lead to economies of scale, lower transaction costs, increased competition, and greater attractiveness as a destination for FDI.” The first step towards this goal has already been taken. In May 2014 the East African Payment System (EAPS) was launched. The new system will facilitate real-time cross-border payments between member states. Initially, the EAPS was operational between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, linking the Tanzania Interbank Settlement System, the Kenya Electronic Payment and Settlement System, and the Uganda National Interbank Settlement. Lucy Kinunda, director of national payment systems at the Tanzanian central bank, told the local press, “We see the enthusiasm among commercial banks and traders building up as it facilitates intra-regional trade by reducing costs and risks in money transfers across border.”
While there is much expectation for the single currency and the political and economic integration it will bring, the main challenge will be the process of macroeconomic convergence. There has been substantial variation in inflation and economic growth rates within the EAC. For Kenya, there will also be a challenge in meeting the macroeconomic criteria laid out in the Monetary Union Protocol. In the decade to the end of 2013, Kenya only achieved the inflation target of below 8% in 2010 and 2013. The country fares better on the ratio of public debt to GDP, maintaining a ratio below the target level of 50% every year between 2008 and 2013. The member states have almost a decade to meet the convergence criteria.
SADC – Southern African Development Community – uses RAND as settlement Currency
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) aims to achieve economic development, peace and security, alleviate poverty, and enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa through regional integration. Current status In order to achieve the above objective, a comprehensive development and implementation framework – the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) – was formulated in 2001 guiding the regional integration over a period of fi fteen years (2005-2020). The RISDFP outlines key integration milestones in fi ve areas: free trade area, customs union, common market, monetary union and single currency. The free trade area was achieved in August 2008, meaning that for 85% of intra-regional trade there is zero duty. The second milestone, to establish a customs union, has been postponed, with a new target date of sometime in 2013. Although the ultimate goal of monetary union with a single currency is several years away, the SADC Payment System integration project is already in motion. This has strategic objectives to: harmonise legal and regulatory frameworks to facilitate regional clearing and settlement arrangements; implement an integrated regional cross-border payment settlement infrastructure; and establish a co-operative oversight arrangement based on the harmonised regulatory framework. The first phase of the cross-border payment settlement infrastructure (SIRESS) went live for the Common Monetary Area countries that use the South African rand (South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland) in July 2013. The new system allows the settlement of payment transactions in a central location using rand as the common settlement currency. Next steps – towards an Economic Union If successful, the new system will be rolled out to the rest of the SADC Member States as the region advances towards its eventual establishment as an economic union. In parallel, the immediate next step is the establishment of the SADC customs union, which presents a number of challenges; the major one is the establishment of a single Common External Tariff, which requires convergence of all individual tariff policies into a single and uniform tariff regime.
The first stage of the Sadc Integrated Regional Electronic Settlement System (SIRESS), being the first go-live involving countries in the Common Monetary Area (CMA) namely Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, was initiated in July 2013. Phase Two involved Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe going live in April 2014 followed by Mauritius and Zambia which went live in September 2014 under Phase Three. Since the launch of Siress, 43% of payments in the Sadc region are now executed through the system, which settles payments in South African rand. By April 2015 Siress had reached the ZAR1 trillion (US$85,1 billion) settlement mark. This phenomenal growth of Siress is emblematic of the growing importance and influence of regional payment systems in general, the rationale of which is the subject of this article.
As of 2015, 9 out of the 15 countries have joined the RTGS system.
ECOWAS – West Africa Monetary Zone (WAMZ)
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)’ Monetary Cooperation Programme (EMCP) provided the blueprint for the economic integration of the countries of West Africa. Amongst other measures, the EMCP called for the creation of a single monetary zone in the sub-regions known as the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ). The WAMZ was created in April 2000 with the goal to establish an economic and monetary union of the member countries. In 2001, WAMZ created the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI) to undertake preparatory activities for the establishment of the West African Central Bank (WACB), and the launching of a monetary union for the Zone. The WAMZ programme aims to increase trade among the ECOWAS/WAMZ member countries, reduce transaction costs for the users of payment systems, domesticate cross-border transactions within the WAMZ through the use of a single currency, develop safe, secure and effi cient payment systems that conform to global standards and build a payment system that will facilitate monetary policy management for the WACB.
Ahead of the establishment of the WACB, having a modernised, safe and stable financial infrastructure in place is a prerequisite to introduce a monetary union successfully. To this effect, a grant of about USD 30 million from African Development Bank Fund was approved for the WAMZ Payments System Development Project, which aims to improve the basic infrastructure of the fi nancial sector through upgrade of the payment systems of our countries – The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Lone and Liberia. The system components of the project include Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system, Automated Clearing House (ACH) / Automated Cheque Processing (ACP) systems, Central Securities Depository (CSD) / Scripless Securities Settlement (SSS) systems, Core Banking Application (CBA) system and infrastructure upgrade (telecommunication and energy). The Gambia’s high-value payment system went live in July 2012 and Sierra Leone is currently going through the implementation. The target date of the project completion in all four countries is June 2014.
COMESA – Common Market for East and Southern Africa
The COMESA launched the COMESA Customs Union in 2009 and the COMESA Regional Payment and Settlement System (REPSS) to facilitate crossborder payment and settlement between Central Banks in the COMESA region. The new system provides a single gateway for Central Banks within the region to effect payment and settlement of trades.
ECOWAS – WAEMU/UEMOA – West African Economic and Monetary Union
created as a single monetary zone is the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) / Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA). The WAEMU was established to promote economic integration among member countries and a common market that share West African francs (CFA francs) as a common currency, monetary policies, and French as an official language. It is a trade zone agreement to encourage internal development, improve trade, establish uniform tariffs for goods, establish a regional stock exchange and a regional banking system.
The UEMOA/WAEMU has successfully implemented macro-economic convergence criteria and an effective surveillance mechanism; adopted a customs union and common external tariff; and combined indirect taxation regulations, in addition to initiating regional structural and sectoral policies. Uniquely amongst Africa’s regionalisation projects, UEMOA/WAEMU has a single central bank, Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO), which governs all of the fi nancial institutions across the Union. As part of the project for modernisation of the payment and financial infrastructure, the BCEAO launched a regional Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system in 2004 and the regional Automated Clearing House (ACH) system in 2008.
The SIP is a novel framework in the Americas, with several elements that dis- tinguish it from other cross-border arrangements: it involves participants in various countries, allows for payment flows in all directions among participants, uses an RTGS concept for its ‘hub’ and interlinks exclusively central bank RTGS systems, not ACHs, and uses a foreign currency for its settlement accounts.
There may certainly be some doubts as to whether the degree of existing commercial integration among the countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic will suffice to make SIP a commercially viable proposition.
But one can see the SIP as part of a wider initiative which seeks to develop the financial infrastructure with a view to furthering a regional financial market. The SIP will be an integral part of the local payment systems of CMCA member countries and, as such, will widen the coverage of available services to the benefit of participants of the national payment systems. Furthermore, the SIP could act as a direct stimulus for those banks that operate in only one of the member countries to offer affordable cross-border payment services to its clients and thus assist in the strengthening of regional financial integration.
Asia – South East Asia – ASEAN 5
Payment issues: Deputy Trade Minister Bayu Krisnamurthi (second right), accompanied by Artajasa president director Arya Damar (right), inspects a booth during the Integrated Payment System seminar in Jakarta on Wednesday. The seminar aimed at informing business players about the integrated payment system ahead of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. (Antara/Prasetyo Utomo)
Bank Indonesia (BI) is currently developing tools to create a more time-efficient and low-cost payment system ahead of the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, when there will be a free flow of goods, services and people among ASEAN member countries.
‘We are working to develop a more integrated national payment system before having an integrated payment system within the ASEAN region,’ BI payment system executive director Rosmaya Hadi said at a seminar held by electronic payment service provider PT Artajasa Pembayaran Elektronik on Wednesday.
With the new system, the Indonesian banking industry will have a new real-time gross settlement system (RTGS) in which bank customers can carry out multi currency transactions on a real-time basis, she said.
‘With this system, a bank customer can carry out multicurrency transactions in only minutes through non-cash payments,’ she said, adding that BI would launch the new system this year.
Rosmaya also said the Indonesian central bank and its counterparts in five ASEAN members, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, had agreed to prepare for an integrated payment system.
‘Central banks of the ASEAN 5 have formed task forces on trade settlements, retail payments, monthly remittances, capital market settlements and standardization to formulate a set of regulations and schemes with which we will have an ASEAN integrated payment system,’ she said.
Under the regional integrated payment system, people in ASEAN will be able to make financial transactions through ATMs, credit cards or electronic money without sacrificing much time and money.
According to a report by the ASEAN Working Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems (WC-PSS), the integrated payment system will reduce bank charges (such as foreign exchange spread among ASEAN currencies and handling fees), and encourage regulated non-bank remittance service providers to adopt international/common standards in retail payment systems.
Of all the ASEAN member countries, only Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand currently have full ATM interoperability, according to an Asian Development Bank Institute report published in 2013.
‘When the AEC commences, ASEAN member countries will have greater need for an integrated payment system as people from across the region will have to carry out transactions from and to their home countries,’ said Deputy Trade Minister Bayu Krisnamurthi at a similar event.
The AEC, also known as the ASEAN single market, will commence at the end of 2015. Under the AEC, the ASEAN 5 and Brunei Darussalam will have free trade agreements, while Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam will fully participate in the community in 2018.
Artajasa president director Arya Damar said that Indonesia should also develop its banking sector to tap its large market by utilizing more cashless transactions, otherwise other ASEAN countries’ banks would do so.
Citing BI data, Artajasa said that with a total of 800,000 local branches, commercial banks in Indonesia could reach only 20 percent of the total working-age population of around 150 million people.
‘Meanwhile, with only 15,000 ATMs, Malaysian commercial banks can reach 66 percent of its total working-age population,’ he said.
Thai commercial banks, with around 66,000 ATMs, can reach about 30 percent of Of Thailand’s total working-age population, he added. (koi)
SINGAPORE – The five largest members of ASEAN – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand – have agreed to implement an integrated payment system to enable real time gross settlement (RTGS) systems to be in effect by next year.
“With this system, a bank customer can carry out multi-currency transactions in minutes through non-cash payments,” said Rosmaya Hadi with Bank Indonesia.
The ASEAN 5 Central Banks are currently working on establishing protocols for intra-trade settlement, retail payments, monthly remittances, capital market settlements and standardization to enable the system to be up and running by the time the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) unification occurs next January.
“When the AEC commences, ASEAN member countries will have greater need for an integrated payment system as people from across the region will have to carry out transactions from and to their home countries,” according to Deputy Trade Minister Bayu Krisnamurthi.
Under the system, individual users across ASEAN will be able to make financial payments through ATMs, credit cards, or electronic money without spending a significant amount of time or money doing so. As ASEAN currently has no plan to establish a unified currency, this program is expected to increase multi-currency transactions.
ASEAN members are also developing their ATM networks; Indonesia, for example, has an ATM reach of 20 percent of its total working population of 150 million, compared with 66 per cent for Malaysia.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are currently the only ASEAN members to have full ATM integration according to the Asian Development Bank. This will soon change as the other ASEAN member nations work towards greater integration.
Indonesia, Thailand, Phillipines, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam in 2015
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to join in 2018
ASEAN +3 Cross Border Infrastructure
In Delhi in May 2013, the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Japan, and the Republic of Korea—collectively known as ASEAN+3—agreed to set up a Cross-Border Settlement Infrastructure Forum (CSIF) to discuss detailed work plans and related processes for the improvement of cross-border settlement in the region, which included the possibility of establishing a regional settlement intermediary (RSI). Members, observers, and the CSIF Secretariat are listed in Appendix 1.
Based on the intensive discussions among CSIF members, the first report, Basic Principles on Establishing a Regional Settlement Intermediary and Next Steps Forward, was published by the Asian Development Bank in May 2014 after being endorsed by the ASEAN+3 finance ministers and Central Bank governors at their 17th meeting held in May 2014 in Astana. The members agreed that the central securities depository (CSD)–real-time gross settlement (RTGS) linkages, which connect national CSD systems and RTGS systems in a flexible
way, would be an achievable model for cross-border settlement infrastructure in the short term and medium term. This model linking existing infrastructure enables local bonds to be settled in delivery versus payment (DVP) via central bank money, which ensures the safety of settlement and is compliant with international standards, as well as being cost- efficient. As such, the CSD–RTGS linkages are to be studied as the most feasible model for implementing the RSI in ASEAN+3.
The Joint Statement of the 17th ASEAN+3 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting reads as follows:
We welcomed the recommendations submitted by the Cross-Border Settlement Infrastructure Forum (CSIF) and the direction of developing the implementation roadmap of CSD-RTGS linkages as short-term and medium-term goals and integrated solution as a long-term goal for making it possible to deliver securities smoothly and safely versus payment across borders. We are of the view that this is a practical and efficient approach to advance regional settlement infrastructure that promotes cross-border securities transactions in the region.
The 4th and 5th CSIF meetings were held in Hong Kong, China (September 2014) and Manila (January 2015), respectively. Specific topics to develop an implementation plan for the CSD–RTGS linkages—such as a desktop study, possible road map—were discussed at these meetings. As an initial step, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) agreed to conduct a desktop study.
Regional Integration in South Asia: BIMSTEC, SAARC, SAPTA, SAFTA
January 1, 2016, marked the tenth anniversary of the South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta). The agreement, which was reached in January 2004 at the 12th Saarc Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan, came into force on January 1, 2006, and became operational after the agreement was ratified by seven nations (Afghanistan, the eighth member, ratified it in May 2011).
It created a free trade area for the people of eight South Asian nations and aimed at reducing custom duties of all traded goods to zero by 2016. That year is here but the South Asian nations see trade among them making up a meagre five per cent of their total transactions.
The purpose of Safta was to promote common contract among the member-nations and provide them with equitable benefits. It also aimed at increasing the level of cooperation in economy and trade among the Saarc nations by lowering the tariff and barriers and give special preference to the least developed countries in the Saarc region.
Safta had a potential
At a time when regional trade blocs and free trade area have emerged as models of cooperative economic growth, the Safta had offered a great opportunity to take forward the process of South Asian integration.
But South Asia has too much problems
But South Asia is a unique regional entity in the entire world. It is a region which has remained a prisoner of the past and pressing geopolitical realities involving India, Pakistan and China.
Thanks to the relentless rivalry between India and Pakistan and the latter’s proximity to the Chinese who have included the strategy of containing India in its scheme of things in South Asia, the idea of integration of South Asia in other forms have remained elusive.
Other smaller countries like Nepal, Bengladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka, too, have played the China card against India time and again, hurting the prospects of mutual confidence.
In such an atmosphere of suspicion, achieving what the Safta had envisioned a decade back has been next to impossible. Despite a free trade pact since 2006, trade among South Asian nations makes up five percent of their total trade. They share few transport and power connections between them.
We saw how Saarc fell apart at its 2014 summit
We saw how the Saarc was split during the 18th summit held in Kathmandu in 2014 end when India and Nepal accused Pakistan of creating an obstacle on the way of regional integration by refusing to sign three multilateral agreements, including road trade and sharing of electricity.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even went to the extent of warning at that time, saying the integration would happen through the Saarc or without it.
He found backing in the Nepali ranks. India then went ahead with ties (visa, energy, road) with other neighbours like Nepal and Bangladesh and also promised to cut its trade surplus with the South Asian nations. But in all, Modi expressed displeasure that the progress was too slow.
Despite the presence of instruments like Safta and Bimstec (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), South Asia has only languished. The state of affairs in connectivity, financial infrastructure including banking and mobility of people and goods have remained stuck in the complex cobweb of customs, visa and transit norms.
India, too, is responsible for the poor state of affairs
India, being the largest nation in South Asia, has been equally guilty by not attaching much significance to the forum in the past, as it did in nurturing relation with the West and Russia. There has been a sheer lack of continuity in the country’s successive governments’ priorities towards South Asia.
For most, a combative policy towards Pakistan and dominating approach towards the smaller neighbours have been the most-after stand. No wonder, opportunities like Safta were lost without a trace.
Can Narendra Modi govt turn the tables around?
However, the Narendra Modi regime has attached much importance to the issue of South Asian integration which is a silver lining. The way India’s PM invited all South Asian heads of states or representatives to his swearing-in ceremony or kicked off his foreign tours with visits to small states like Bhutan and Nepal or suddenly landed in Lahore to reach out to his Pakistani counterpart-all these suggest that his government aspires to see a better surroundings.
Yes, there have been a serious goof-up by India’s foreign-policy makers in Nepal in the wake of its ratifying a new constitution, which has left the Himalayan neighbour distraught, but yet going by PM Modi’s general intent of improving the state of South Asian cooperation, the decade-old Safta could still have a future.
As of now, the wait will be for the 19th Saarc summit in Islamabad later this year.