Imf International Monetary Fund

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What does the International Monetary Fund do?

The IMF is the world's central organization for international monetary cooperation. It is an organization in which almost all countries in the world work together to promote the common good.

The IMF's primary purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system—the system of exchange rates and international payments that enables countries (and their citizens) to buy goods and services from each other. This is essential for sustainable economic growth and rising living standards.

To maintain stability and prevent crises in the international monetary system, the IMF reviews national, regional, and global economic and financial developments. It provides advice to its 188 member countries, encouraging them to adopt policies that foster economic stability, reduce their vulnerability to economic and financial crises, and raise living standards, and serves as a forum where they can discuss the national, regional, and global consequences of their policies.

The IMF also makes financing temporarily available to member countries to help them address balance of payments problems—that is, when they find themselves short of foreign exchange because their payments to other countries exceed their foreign exchange earnings.

And it provides technical assistance and training to help countries build the expertise and institutions they need for economic stability and growth.

Why was it created?

The IMF was conceived in July 1944, when representatives of 45 governments meeting in the town of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in the northeastern United States, agreed on a framework for international economic cooperation. They believed that such a framework was necessary to avoid a repetition of the disastrous economic policies that had contributed to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

During that decade, attempts by countries to shore up their failing economies—by limiting imports, devaluing their currencies to compete against each other for export markets, and curtailing their citizens' freedom to buy goods abroad and to hold foreign exchange—proved to be self-defeating. World trade declined sharply, and employment and living standards plummeted in many countries.

Seeking to restore order to international monetary relations, the IMF's founders charged the new institution with overseeing the international monetary system to ensure exchange rate stability and encouraging member countries to eliminate exchange restrictions that hindered trade. The IMF came into existence in December 1945, when its first 29 member countries signed its Articles of Agreement. Since then, the IMF has adapted itself as often as needed to keep up with the expansion of its membership—184 countries as of June 2006—and changes in the world economy.

Box 1
Exchange rate stability

Countries that joined the IMF between 1945 and 1971 agreed to keep their exchange rates (the value of their currencies in terms of the U.S. dollar and, in the case of the United States, the value of the U.S. dollar in terms of gold) pegged at rates that could be adjusted only to correct a "fundamental disequilibrium" in the balance of payments and only with the IMF's agreement. This so called par value system—also known as the Bretton Woods system—prevailed until 1971, when the U.S. government suspended the convertibility of the U.S. dollar (and dollar reserves held by other governments) into gold. Since then, IMF members have been free to choose any form of exchange arrangement they wish (except pegging their currency to gold): allowing the currency to float freely; pegging it to another currency or a basket of currencies; adopting the currency of another country; or participating in a currency bloc.

The IMF's membership jumped sharply in the 1960s, when a large number of former colonial territories joined after gaining their independence, and again in the 1990s, when the IMF welcomed as members the...
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