The rich countries that dominate the International Monetary Fund, including the United States, moved yesterday toward limiting future loans by the organization, which serves as bank of last resort for poorer countries that fall deeply in debt.
The so-called Group of 10 rich nations, which includes the United States, Japan and most of the leading European countries, agreed in principle at an all-day meeting here to phase out gradually the enlarged "access" of member countries to IMF resources, to which they have been entitled since 1981. Related stories on Page H1.
Pressured by the United States, the Group of 10 agreed, according to a brief communique, that IMF policies must "continue to be guided by the principle of preserving the monetary character of the institution . . . . In this present situation, this implied a careful husbandry of the Fund's resources."
But Group of 10 Chairman Jacques Delors, French Minister of Finance, told a news conference that the group had rejected overwhelmingly a specific U.S. proposal that would have limited borrowing next year to no more than this year's totals, with percentage allowances scaled down sharply after that. It was learned that Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, the U.S. member of the group, was a minority of one on this point.
As for future years, the Group of 10 communique said "access limits should be reviewed annually and be adapted to changing circumstances and prospects."
Although the communique was silent about it, Delors said he thought that prospects had improved for a European loan of $3 billion to the IMF, which would allow a similar loan from Saudi Arabia to go forward.
"Ten days ago, I thought this was held up, but we have been able to untie it, and I think we may be heading to a possible solution," he told a news conference.
He strongly implied that Europeans could "show a sign of good will" if Congress speedily passes a $8.4 billion appropriation for the IMF.
In that case, Delors said, the IMF's difficult cash-shortage problem would be alleviated, and the agency could remove the ban it established just two weeks ago on any new loan negotiations.
Controversy at the Group of 10 session was not limited to the American proposal on access. According to Delors, there was vigorous debate over the large U.S. budget deficit, ending in a warning by Regan that any effort to cut the deficit by raising taxes could abort U.S. and worldwide recovery.
"This surprised those who heard it," Delors said.
In rebuttal, Delors said, the Europeans and Japanese told Regan that high interest rates--caused by the U.S. deficit--"are the main obstacle to recovery."
The final rules on "access" will be hashed out at a meeting of the IMF's policy-making Interim Committee today, but the poor nations already were organizing to fight a reduction in lending programs. Discussing the U.S. proposals, a participant in the meeting yesterday of the Group of 24, which represents poor nations, said:
"We have a feeling of absolute paralysis, because we see what is happening and are powerless to do anything about it."
The worldwide recession of the last two years and the Third World debt crisis that exploded last year have strained the IMF. Loan demand has risen just as major nations began to resist further large contributions to international organizations.
Here, the Reagan administration has sought the $8.4 billion U.S. contribution to the IMF from Congress. But many in Congress have resisted on grounds that the IMF contribution would be a bail-out for large commercial banks that unwisely have lent them too much money to the Third World.
In staking out a hard U.S. line Friday, before this week's annual meetings of the IMF, Regan was trying on one hand to persuade poor nations to be realistic in their future demands. On the other, he was assuring Congress, in effect, that if it approved a new contribution, the money would be parceled out judiciously.
In the IMF, a member nation originally was entitled to borrow hard currency equal to 100 percent of its own quota (deposits of its own currency in the IMF).
As poor-nation debts increased, this allowance was boosted to 125 percent, and finally in 1980 to 150 percent per year for three years for a maximum of 450 percent.
Now, however, quotas are to be boosted by 48 percent and U.S. officials say they feel that it is time to cut allowances back toward traditional levels--a policy that the Group of 10 yesterday endorsed.
Regan proposed that for 1984, the borrowing limit be 102 percent of the enlarged quotas--which for most countries would be almost exactly equal to 150 percent of the old and smaller quotas. It is this specific number against which the Group of 10 drew a line.
Then, under his proposal, the allowance would drop to 85 percent in 1985; to 70 percent in 1986; and to 55 percent in 1987. Instead, the other members of the Group of 10 countered, limits beginning in 1985 should be reviewed each year, according to the demands and resources available at the time.
IMF officials yesterday said that if the U.S. plan were adopted, Brazil, which now has a borrowing limit of $4.7 billion based on a quota of slightly over $1 billion, would be limited in 1987 to a maximum three-year borrowing potential of $2.6 billion, based on its proposed larger quota of about $1.5 billion.
Similarly, Mexico, which now has a borrowing limit of $3.8 billion, would be cut back in 1987 to about $2 billion.
Manmohan Singh, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and vice chairman of the Group of 24, said such results would be "very unrealistic." Delors said European nations were united in their view that a figure much larger than 102 percent would have to be put in place for 1984, given the critical needs of the Third World.
According to one report after the Group of 10 meeting, the European group will insist on an access figure of 120 percent for 1984, which would allow a modest increment, in dollar terms compared with this year. How vigorously the United States will oppose such a figure in the Interim Committee remains to be seen.