Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Currency unions in action around the world

The US dollar is used by three neighbouring sovereign states, Panama, El Salvador and Equador. In Panama, the local currency, the Balboa, has, since its creation in 1904, been tied to the US dollar.

Panama has no central bank. The US dollar is the paper currency while Panama issues coins equivalent to cents. It was followed by Equador in 2000, and then by El Salvador in 2001, both choosing to adopt the dollar as their de facto currency. A downside of this link is that the three countries have no influence over money supply. A spokesman for the US Federal Reserve confirmed: “Dollarised countries do not have a role of any kind in the Federal Reserve’s formulation of US monetary policy.”

The Swiss National Bank is the independent central bank of Switzerland, with the Swiss government taking no part in the setting of monetary policy. Neighbouring Liechtenstein had used the Swiss franc since the 1920s and then formally joined in currency union in 1980. That agreement allows for the government in Liechtenstein to inform and consult the Swiss National Bank “if needs be”. But a spokesman for the Swiss National Bank said: “Liechtenstein does not have any formal role in setting the monetary policy.”

The Australian dollar is used by three other independent nations, the tiny islands of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu. The islands issue their own coins alongside Australian denominations which are treated as equivalent to the Australian dollar. In Kiribati, prior to independence, Australian currency was widely used. After independence in 1979, coins were issued in order to show its new political status. Tuvalu began a similar arrangement in 1976. Nauru has relied heavily on Australia since independence in 1968. In all three cases, the central bank is the Reserve Bank of Australia. A spokesman said the three countries had to abide by its decisions on interest rates and monetary policy.

In 1986, a Common Monetary Area for Southern Africa was signed covering South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Namibia subsequently joined. This formalised a de facto currency union which has been in place since the 1920s. Under the 1986 deal, the three smaller countries were given the right to issue their own national currencies, pegged to the South African Rand. There is no common central bank, but – as the biggest player – the South African Reserve Bank holds sway. The countries’ bank governors meet three times a year but “the smaller CMA partner countries do not sit on the South African monetary policy committee and have to accept the monetary policy decisions taken by the SARB as given”, a spokesman for the SA treasury says.

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