Two years after the coronavirus pandemic emerged and left much of the globe in a state of paralysis, policymakers are grappling with ongoing challenges, including clogged supply chains, lockdowns in China and the prospect of an energy crisis as nations wean themselves off Russian oil and gas. Those colliding forces have some economists starting to worry about a global recession as different corners of the world find their economies battered by events.
Finding ways to avoid a slowdown while continuing to exert pressure on Russia for its war in Ukraine will be the primary focus of finance ministers from the Group of 7 nations who are convening in Bonn, Germany, this week.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said that elevated food and energy prices were depressing both spending and economic output, creating what she called “stagflationary effects” all around the world.
The economic challenges that governments around the globe are facing could begin to chip away at the united front that Western nations have maintained in confronting Russia’s aggression, including sweeping sanctions aimed at crippling its economy and efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy.
Policymakers are balancing delicate trade-offs as they consider how to isolate Russia, support Ukraine and keep their own economies afloat at a moment when prices are rising rapidly and growth is slowing.
Central banks around the world are beginning to raise interest rates to help tame rapid inflation, moves that will temper economic growth by raising borrowing costs and could lead to higher unemployment. Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, last week signaled a possible increase in interest rates in July, which would be the ECB’s first such move in more than a decade.
Global growth is expected to slow to 3.6 percent this year, the International Monetary Fund projected in April, down from the 4.4 percent it forecast before both Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s zero-Covid lockdowns.
On Monday, the European Commission released its own revised economic forecast, showing a slowdown in growth to 2.7 percent this year from the 4 percent estimated in its winter report. At the same time, inflation is hitting record levels and is expected to average 6.8 percent for the year. Britain’s annual inflation rate jumped to 9 percent last month, the highest in 40 years, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday. And some Eastern European countries face even steeper price increases, with Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Lithuania all facing inflation rates in excess of 11 percent.
Pressures on global supply chains also worsened in April as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and pandemic lockdowns in China made it more difficult for companies to source parts and products globally, a supply chain index published Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed. That could further exacerbate shortages and price increases.
Eswar Prasad, the former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division, summed up the challenges facing the G7 nations, saying that its “policymakers are caught in the bind that any tightening of screws on Russia by limiting energy purchases worsens inflation and hurts growth in their economies.”
“Such sanctions, for all the moral justification underpinning them, are exacting an increasingly heavy economic toll that in turn could have domestic political consequences for G7 leaders,” he added.
Still, the United States is expected to press its allies to continue isolating Russia and to deliver more economic aid to Ukraine despite their own economic troubles. Officials are also expected to discuss the merits of imposing tariffs on Russian energy exports ahead of a proposed European oil embargo that the United States fears could send prices skyrocketing by limiting supplies. Policymakers will also discuss whether to press countries such as India to roll back export restrictions on crucial food products that are worsening already high prices.
Against this backdrop is the growing urgency to help sustain Ukraine’s economy, which the International Monetary Fund has said needs an estimated $5 billion a month in aid to keep government operations running. The U.S. Congress is close to passing a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that will cover some of these costs, but Ms. Yellen has called on her European counterparts to provide more financial help.
Finance ministers are expected to consider other measures for providing Ukraine with relief.
There is increasing interest in the idea of seizing some of the approximately $300 billion in Russian central bank reserves that the United States and its allies have immobilized and using that money to help fund Ukraine’s reconstruction. Treasury Department officials are considering the idea, but they have trepidations about the feasibility of such a move and the possibility that it would raise doubts about the United States as a safe place to store assets.