Abstract

1. The IMF’s involvement in trade policy issues has been a source of controversy. In contrast to exchange rate, fiscal, or monetary policies, trade policy lies within the IMF’s domain through at most a soft mandate. This leaves substantial scope for disagreement on whether the IMF has overstepped its proper role on trade policy or not done enough. Also, reflecting an orientation toward removing barriers to trade, the IMF’s involvement in trade policy has stoked the debate on whether steps toward freer trade are always beneficial for a country or whether developmental objectives are better served by more gradual changes. Alongside this debate are charges that IMF advice has not been evenhanded and has pushed harder on developing countries (through lending arrangements) than on advanced countries to reduce protectionism. And with the increasing complexity of trade policy issues, questions have arisen about whether IMF staff have the expertise to address trade policies rigorously.

1. The IMF’s involvement in trade policy issues has been a source of controversy. In contrast to exchange rate, fiscal, or monetary policies, trade policy lies within the IMF’s domain through at most a soft mandate. This leaves substantial scope for disagreement on whether the IMF has overstepped its proper role on trade policy or not done enough. Also, reflecting an orientation toward removing barriers to trade, the IMF’s involvement in trade policy has stoked the debate on whether steps toward freer trade are always beneficial for a country or whether developmental objectives are better served by more gradual changes. Alongside this debate are charges that IMF advice has not been evenhanded and has pushed harder on developing countries (through lending arrangements) than on advanced countries to reduce protectionism. And with the increasing complexity of trade policy issues, questions have arisen about whether IMF staff have the expertise to address trade policies rigorously.

2. The evaluation asks what the role of the IMF in trade policy has been and how well it has been carried out. It examines these questions in the context of surveillance and conditionality on use of Fund resources (UFR). Trade-related technical assistance (TA), which is the subject of a soon-to-be completed evaluation by an external consultant to the Fund’s Fiscal Affairs Department (FAD), is not systematically examined. The evaluation covers 1996–2007, the years since the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and during which IMF involvement in trade policy has continued to evolve. Box 1 has a brief retrospective on IMF involvement in trade policy prior to the evaluation period.

3. The definition of trade policy is somewhat arbitrary because myriad interlocking policies affect trade. Our definition is measures that directly and primarily aim to influence the quantity and/or value of a country’s own or its trading partners’ imports and exports of goods and services. It encompasses traditional instruments—tariffs, quotas, and export subsidies and taxes—customs administration, preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and domestic (“behind-the-border”) policies that distort trade.1 This delineation is not watertight as other policies also affect trade. Exchange rate policy, including exchange controls and multiple exchange rates, is noteworthy but is outside the scope of the evaluation (Box 2).

4. The evaluation considers five questions. What is the nature of the IMF’s mandate to cover trade policy (addressed in Chapter 2)? Did the IMF work effectively with other international organizations on trade policy (Chapter 3)? Was clear guidance provided to staff on the IMF’s role and approach to trade policy (Chapter 4)? How well did the IMF address trade policy issues through lending arrangements and surveillance (Chapter 5)? Was IMF advice effective (Chapter 6)? Chapter 7 offers findings and recommendations. Two annexes describe data sources for the evaluation and results of surveys of country officials and IMF staff.

IMF Involvement in Trade Policy: A History of Cycles

Until the mid-1970s, the IMF was involved in trade policy mainly as a record keeper. From a trade policy viewpoint, most countries fell into three groups: the 23 signatories of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) undertook multilateral trade liberalization that spurred growth of world trade substantially faster than that of world GDP; most developing countries pursued an import substitution industrialization (ISI) strategy and were highly protectionist; and Soviet bloc countries operated in anything from barter systems to autarky. Yearly IMF Article VIII/XIV consultations recorded members’ trade policy changes and gave some policy advice.

This rather passive role gave way to activism, mainly through conditionality in lending arrangements, in the 1970s, when shocks pummeled balance of payments positions, especially of developing countries. The difficulty of many countries in rebounding from these shocks, together with growing academic attention to harmful effects of protection, revealed the flaws of ISI strategies. Conditions on trade reform became prominent in IMF-supported adjustment programs during 1980–95, in efforts to improve supply conditions so as not to rely only on demand compression to reduce balance of payments imbalances. These policy changes were unilateral and outside of the GATT framework even as developing countries became GATT members.

By 1995, when the WTO was established, the trade policy landscape had changed massively. The GATT had 123 members (all became members of the WTO), and incentives for nonmembers to accede to the WTO were large. Five multilateral trade rounds during 1947–95 had reduced average tariff rates on manufactured imports in industrial countries from 40 percent to 3.5 percent. Though tariff reduction remained a goal of the WTO, it was also hoped that the new institution would be able to address impediments to trade in areas such as agriculture, textiles, services, intellectual property rights, and behind-the-border regulations, which had not yet been addressed or had proved thorny. But even as more trade policy issues were consolidated in one institution, the spread of preferential trade agreements meant that countries increasingly focused trade policy on these agreements. In this setting, the IMF began to curtail its role in trade policy issues at the turn of the century.

Distinctions Between Exchange Rate Policy and Trade Policy from the IMF’s Perspective

One purpose of the IMF, expressed in Article I(iii) of the Articles of Agreement, is “to promote exchange stability, to maintain orderly exchange arrangements among members, and to avoid competitive exchange depreciation.” This responsibility implicitly reflects the view that exchange rate policy has profound implications for the expansion and balanced growth of international trade. In economic terms, therefore, exchange rate policy may share objectives and attributes of more narrowly defined trade policy. In two dimensions, this similarity can be particularly obvious. First, competitive depreciation can be considered a beggar-thy-neighbor trade policy similar to an across-the-board export subsidy plus import tariff. Second, substantial exchange rate volatility can have an adverse effect on trade volumes.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons, in the context of the IMF’s mandate, to consider the IMF’s role in trade policy separately from (though in tandem with) that in exchange rate policy. This is because of the fundamental distinction between exchange rate policy and more narrowly defined trade policy in the Articles of Agreement. Specifically, with respect to exchange rates, members undertake an obligation “to collaborate with the Fund and other members…to promote a stable system of exchange rates” and to “avoid manipulating exchange rates…to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other members” (Article IV, Section 1). In turn, the Fund has the explicit responsibility “to exercise firm surveillance over the exchange rate policies of members” as it oversees “the compliance of each member with its obligations” (Article IV, Section 3). These provisions unambiguously place exchange rate policy and its implications for trade at the center of the Fund’s mandate. In contrast, the mandate for the Fund’s involvement in more narrowly defined trade policy is based on “soft” obligations, for example that each member shall “endeavor to direct its economic and financial policies toward the objective of fostering orderly economic growth” (Article IV, Section 1(i)). Thus, especially with the IEO having recently completed an evaluation of IMF advice on exchange rate policy and to help focus this evaluation on the IMF’s role in the context of this softer mandate, this evaluation focuses on the IMF’s role in providing advice on trade policy narrowly defined.

1

A PTA refers to an agreement between two or more countries to grant and/or receive more favorable trade conditions among themselves than vis-à-vis third countries. A PTA includes discriminatory preferences, be they unilateral (e.g., preference schemes) or reciprocal (e.g., free trade agreements and customs unions).

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  • World Trade Organization (WTO), 2006a, “Implementation of the Development Assistance Aspects of the Cotton-Related Decisions in the 2004 July Package—Secretariat Progress Report,” TN/AG/SCC/W/5 (Geneva: World Trade Organization).

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  • World Trade Organization (WTO), 2006b, “Lamy Welcomes WTO Agreement on Regional Trade Agreements” (Geneva: World Trade Organization). Available via the Internet: http://www.wto.org/ english/news_e/news06_e/rta_july06_e.htm.

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  • IMF Institute, 2008, “Financial Programming and Policies” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1994a, “Comprehensive Trade Paper—Issues Paper,” SM/94/192 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1994b, “The Acting Chairman’s Summing Up at the Conclusion of the Discussion on the Comprehensive Trade Paper,” BUFF/94/82 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1994c, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 94/74—Comprehensive Trade Paper,” EBM/94/74 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1994d, “Summing Up by the Acting Chairman—Regional Trading Arrangements,” BUFF/94/98 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1995, “Reference Note on WTO Consistency” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1997, “Summing up by the Acting Chairman—Trade Liberalization in Fund-Supported Programs,” BUFF/97/108 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1998a, “Surveillance over the Monetary and Exchange Rate Policies of the Members of the Euro Area,” SM/98/257 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1998b, “Revenue Implications of Trade Liberalization,” SM/98/254 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1999a, “Note on Import Surcharges” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1999b, “Concluding Remarks by the Acting Chairman—Revenue Implications of Trade Liberalization,” BUFF/99/22 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1999c, “Guidelines on Designing and Implementing Trade Policy Reforms” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2000a, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 00/24—Surveillance over Exchange Rate Policies: Review,” EBM/00/24-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2000b, “Summing Up by the Acting Chairman—Biennial Review of the Implementation of the Fund’s Surveillance and of the 1977 Surveillance Decision,” SUR/00/32 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2000c, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 00/57—Morocco: 2000 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/-00/57-2 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2000d, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 00/60—India: 2000 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/00/60-2 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2000e, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 00/73—Vietnam: 2000 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/-00/73-3 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2000f, “Streamlining Structural Conditionality in Fund-Supported Programs—Interim Guidance Note” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2001a, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 01/13—Tunisia: 2000 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/01/71-2 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2001b, “Structural Conditionality in Fund-Supported Programs,” SM/01/60 Supplement 2 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2001c, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 01/28—South Africa: 2000 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/01/28-3 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2001d, “Concluding Remarks by the Acting Chair—Trade Issues: Role of the Fund,” BUFF/01/43 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2001e, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 01/91—Trade Issues: Role of the Fund,” EBM/01/91-2 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2002a, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 02/38—Biennial Review of the Implementation of the Fund’s Surveillance and of the 1977 Surveillance Decision: Overview; and Extension of Deadline for Review,” EBM/02/38-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2002b, “Summing Up by the Chairman—Biennial Review of the Implementation of the Fund’s Surveillance and of the 1977 Surveillance Decision,” SUR/02/42 (Washington: International Monetary Fund)

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2002c, “Operational Guidance Note for Staff Following the 2002 Biennial Surveillance Review,” SM/02/292 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2002d, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 02/98—Market Access for Developing Country Exports: Selected Issues,” EBM/02/98-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2002e, “Concluding Remarks by the Acting Chair—Market Access for Developing Country Exports: Selected Issues,” BUFF/02/165 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2002f, “Guidelines on Conditionality,” SM/02/276 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2003a, “Operational Guidance on the New Condition-ality Guidelines” (Washington: International Monetary Fund). Available via the Internet: http://www.imf.org/external/np/pdr/cond/2003/eng/050803.htm.

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2003b, “Developments in World Textiles Markets: Implications for Fund Surveillance” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2003c, “Committee on Liaison with the World Trade Organization Meeting 03/2—The Doha Development Agenda Following Cancun,” EB/CWTO/Mtg/03/2 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2004a, “Fund Support for Trade-Related Balance of Payments Adjustments,” SM/04/63 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2004b, “The Acting Chair’s Summing Up—Fund Support for Trade-Related Balance of Payments Adjustments,” BUFF/04/72 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2004c, “Operational Guidance Note for Staff on Financial Sector Surveillance in Article IV Consultations” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2004d, “The Chairman’s Summing Up—Biennial Review of the Implementation of the Fund’s Surveillance and of the 1977 Surveillance Decision,” SUR/04/80 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2004e, “Committee on Liaison with the World Trade Organization Meeting 04/1—Recent Decisions on the WTO’s Doha Work Program and Selected Issues of Interest to the Fund,” EB/CWTO/Mtg/04/1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005a, “Review of Fund Work on Trade,” SM/05/57 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005b, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 05/15, Canada—2005 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/05/15-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005c, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting—Review of Fund Work on Trade,” EBM/05/19-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005d, “The Acting Chair’s Summing Up—Review of Fund Work on Trade,” BUFF/05/45 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005e, “Surveillance Guidance Note,” SM/05/156 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005f, “EU Sugar Sector Reforms—Impact on Developing Countries” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005g, “The Acting Chair’s Summing Up—Doha Development Agenda and Aid for Trade,” BUFF/05/187 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005h, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 05/106—Mali: 2005 Article IV Consultation; Second and Third Reviews Under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, and Request for Waiver of Nonobservance of Performance Criteria; Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Implementation Report for 2003 and 2004,” EBM/05/106-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005i, “Fund Surveillance over Members of Currency Unions,” SM/05/429 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2005j, “IMF Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato Welcomes Progress on Doha Round,” IMF Press Release 05/281 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006a, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 06/4—Nicaragua: 2005 Article IV Consultation, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Reviews Under the Three-Year Arrangement Under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, Financing Assurances Review, and Requests for Rephasing, Waiver of Performance Criteria, and Extension of the Arrangement; Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper; Joint Staff Advisory Note,” EBM/06/4-4 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006b, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 06/6—Ecuador: 2005 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/06/6-4 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006c, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 06/49—Tunisia: 2006 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/06/49-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006d, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 06/68—El Salvador: 2006 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/06/68-4 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006e, “Trade in Textiles and Clothing After the Elimination of MFA Quotas” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006f, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 06/69—Euro Area Policies,” EBM/06/69-2 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006g, “The Acting Chair’s Summing Up—Doha Development Agenda and Aid for Trade,” BUFF/06/143 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006h, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 06/82—Republic of Korea: 2006 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/06/82-3 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006i, “Preferential Trade Agreements—Issues for the Fund,” SM/06/383 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006j, “Extension of Certain U.S. Unilateral Trade Preference Programs” (unpublished; Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2006k, “Minutes of Executive Board Meeting 06/107—India: 2006 Article IV Consultation,” EBM/06/107-1 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 2007, “The Acting Chair’s Summing Up—Aid for Trade: Harnessing Globalization for Economic Development,” BUFF/07/133 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Köhler, Horst, 2003, “Cooperation in Trade and International Financial Integration,” speech delivered at the WTO General Council Meeting on Coherence, Geneva, May.

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  • Siegel, Deborah E., 2004, “Using Free Trade Agreements to Control Capital Account Restrictions: Summary of Remarks on the Relationship to the Mandate of the IMF,” ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 10 (Spring), pp. 297304.

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  • Abdelati, Wafa, 2007, “Banking Soundness and Financial Intermediation,” Chapter III in “Bangladesh—Selected Issues,” SM/07/195 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Aitken, Brian, 2004, “Restructuring and Privatization of State-Owned Commercial Banks—Cross-Country Experiences,” Chapter II in “Vietnam—Selected Issues,” SM/04/379 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Akitoby, Bernardin, 2007, “Structural Fiscal Issues,” Chapter II in “Ghana—Selected Issues,” SM/07/175 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Baunsgaard, Thomas, and Michael Keen, 2005, “Tax Revenue and (or) Trade Liberalization?” IMF Working Paper 05/112 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Bauer, Andreas, and others, 2007, “Tax Incentives and Foreign Direct Investment: Policy Implications for the Caribbean,” Chapter II in “Caribbean—Selected Regional Issues: Background Paper,” SM/07/320 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Berezin, Peter, 2005, “Banking Reform in Bangladesh––A South Asian Perspective,” Chapter V in “Bangladesh—Selected Issues,” SM/05/217 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Cull, Robert, and María Soledad Martínez Pería, 2007, “Foreign Bank Participation and Crises in Developing Countries,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4128 (Washington: World Bank).

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  • Dalsgaard, Jens, 2000, “External Sector Developments,” Chapter V in “Bangladesh—Recent Economic Developments,” SM/00/8 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Davies, Matt, and Jonathan Dunn, 2008, “Export Diversification and External Competitiveness,” Chapter II in “Bangladesh—Selected Issues,” SM/08/286 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Dunn, Jonathan, 2007, “The Ready-Made Garment Industry in Bangladesh: An Update,” Chapter I in “Bangladesh—Selected Issues,” SM/07/195 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Dyczewski, Pawel, 2007, “Guyana’s Sugar Industry and the EU Trade Preference Erosion,” Chapter I in “Guyana—Selected Issues,” SM/07/93 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Hoekman, Bernard, 2002, “Strengthening the Global Trade Architecture for Development: the Post-Doha Agenda,” World Trade Review, Vol. 1 (March), pp. 2345.

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  • Ibrahim, Ali, 1996, “The Implications of the Uruguay Round Agreement for Bangladesh,” Chapter IV in “Bangladesh—Selected Issues,” SM/96/193 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Integrated Framework (IF), 2005, Tanzania—Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (Washington: Integrated Framework).

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1994a, “Vietnam—Recent Economic Developments,” SM/94/138 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1994b, “Guyana—Request for Arrangements Under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility,” EBS/94/136 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1994c, “Vietnam—Request for Arrangements Under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility,” EBS/94/209 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1995a, “Republic of Mozambique—Staff Report for the 1995 Article IV Consultation and Request for Extension of Commitment Period of the Additional Arrangement Under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility,” EBS/95/66 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1995b, “Guyana—Staff Report for the 1995 Article IV Consultation and Midterm Review Under the First Annual ESAF Arrangement,” EBS/95/89 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1995c, “Vietnam—Staff Report for the 1995 Article IV Consultation and Midterm Review Under the First-Year ESAF Arrangement,” EBS/95/115 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1996a, “Vietnam—Request for the Second Annual Arrangement Under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility,” EBS/96/17 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1996b, “Bangladesh—Staff Report for the 1995 Article IV Consultation,” SM/96/54 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1996c, “The Cross-Border Initiative in Eastern and Southern Africa,” SM/96/64