Citing increasing concern over the huge U.S. trade deficit, the International Monetary Fund has called on the United States to cut its budget deficit even if it risks an economic downturn at home.
The IMF annual report, which was released today as a prelude to the joint meeting of the IMF and World Bank that begins here Sept. 29, also urged Japan and West Germany to make major changes in their economic policy programs.
If the U.S. trade deficit and the Japanese and German surpluses persist for much longer, the report said, there would be "serious implications for growth throughout the world economy."
This amounted to a reiteration of the IMF's recommendations to the biggest of its 151 member nations over the past three or four years. But the urgency was underscored by the persistence of the trade imbalances in the face of a 50 percent depreciation of the dollar against major currencies in the past two years.
The problems of exchange rates and trade deficits will be at the top of the agenda for the joint annual session.
The annual report made clear that the two IMF managing directors in the past year -- Michel Camdessus and his predecessor, Jacques de Larosiere -- had maintained pressure on the three major nations to make important changes in their policies.
The IMF maintains a bilateral surveillance of members' economic policies and how those policies affect exchange rates and other nations. Major nations agreed at the two most recent economic summits, in Tokyo in 1986 and in Venice this year, to strengthen the surveillance process, using a series of economic indicators.
In the meantime, the report makes clear, the IMF has been bearing down on individual governments to alter national policies in the interest of the global economy.
The annual report's version of these consultations, sources said, was somewhat sanitized because member countries have final editorial control of it. But the narrative as released contains at least a hint of the IMF's advice.
Concerning the United States, the report said: "... the imbalances that had emerged in the early stages of the recovery -- in particular the large fiscal and external current account deficits -- have become increasingly worrisome, and there is a need to address them if economic growth and good price performance are to be sustained.
"The United States could most usefully contribute to the reduction of these imbalances through firm implementation of fiscal adjustments... . While such fiscal correction might weaken domestic demand in the short run, it would lead to a lasting reduction in real interest rates, to an improvement in prospects for capital formation and long-run economic growth worldwide, and to a more sustainable pattern of current account balances among major countries, thereby fostering conditions conducive to greater stability in exchange rates... . On trade policy, the record has been mixed, and it is essential that protectionist measures be firmly resisted."
Concerning Japan: The "sustained withdrawal of external demand and the need to correct the large current account surplus suggests that domestic demand would have to expand rapidly for growth to accelerate toward the economy's potential.
"In light of these considerations, fiscal policy in Japan needs to be implemented in a way that does not contribute to economic weakness, but rather takes account of that weakness ... . There is also a need to strengthen the responsiveness of domestic prices to external developments... . Finally, there is a need to press ahead with a range of structural reforms, notably as regards land use regulations, financial deregulation, agricultural subsidies, taxation and foreign access to domestic markets."
Concerning West Germany: "... dependence of the economy on foreign demand has been a source of concern, and in view of the longer-term need to reduce the surplus on current account, policies need to be restructured so as to facilitate the reorientation of the economy away from a reliance on foreign demand... . Circumstances might arise under which it could be desirable to introduce the 1990 tax reform at an earlier date. The effectiveness of such a policy would be enhanced if it were coupled with a program to reduce subsidies and improve the structure of markets."
In consultations with other countries, the IMF warned that French gains in respect to inflation and industrial profits "may be fragile" and cited a "remarkable performance" by Britain, but said that wage increases had been "too generous"; urged Italy to make further cuts in public sector spending, and cautioned Canada that its unemployment rate, while down substantially, is still too high.