Top Turkish banker: Keep ties with IMF

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s relations with the International Monetary Fund should remain as «close as possible» after its $19 billion loan accord with the Fund expires next February, the central bank governor said. Financial markets have been unsettled in recent weeks in part because of uncertainty over future ties with the IMF. The government is expected to set out its plans for relations with the Fund in the next couple of months. Speaking at a tourism association dinner on Thursday evening, Sureyya Serdengecti, Turkey’s central bank governor, said: «We must continue on our path as close as possible to the IMF. I don’t see any reason to say ‘we have succeeded’ yet.» He said the IMF was important in terms of increasing the confidence of domestic and international markets in Turkey amid hopes that it will win a date from the European Union at the end of this year to start membership talks. «If we do not get a date from the EU, we have to continue with the IMF for the sake of (maintaining) confidence because in that case, Turkey’s risk premium will increase,» he said. Turkey’s economy has recovered strongly from a 2001 financial crisis and chronic high inflation has been slashed under the standby program with the Fund. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan unsettled markets last week when he said Ankara could ease back from a key IMF-backed target, the budget primary surplus. Subsequently, he made a pledge to preserve fiscal discipline. Serdengecti said the current account deficit was expected to widen further in March and April, but the risks presented by this were lower than in the past because of high central bank foreign exchange reserves. The deficit swelled more than expected to $2.8 billion in the first two months of the year. The official 2004 target is $7.6 billion. The central banker also said there could be temporary divergence from the inflation target because of high agricultural prices and foreign factors but these would not affect official 2004 goals. «The year-end target is 12 percent and there is no reason to change that at the moment,» he said.

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