By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it expedited the appointment of U.S. Treasury official Geoffrey Okamoto to its No. 2 position effective March 30 as member countries struggle with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
The appointment as the IMF’s first deputy managing director thrusts Okamoto, the Treasury’s acting assistant secretary for international finance, into a critical policy position at a time when dozens of countries are queuing up for emergency IMF loans as the coronavirus halts economic activity worldwide.
Okamoto, 35, has been coordinating U.S. participation in G20 and G7 finance meetings and the Treasury’s interactions with the IMF, the World Bank and other international financial institutions. But he lacks the experience in international economic policy and crisis management that his IMF predecessors had, including David Lipton, John Lipsky and Stanley Fischer.
Lipton, 66, a former IMF economist, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for international affairs and economic adviser to President Barack Obama, left the Fund at the end of February.
“Given the exceptional challenges that our member countries are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic, I am very pleased that the IMF’s Executive Board has agreed to advance Geoffrey’s appointment,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.
“The IMF is putting all hands on-deck to help our membership address this crisis — and Geoffrey will play a key role in our efforts,” Georgieva added.
She announced her nomination of Okamoto a week ago, and it normally takes two weeks for the IMF board to consider an appointment at that level.
Okamoto’s appointment was backed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The U.S. administration normally selects an American for the No. 2 official at the IMF, part of a tradition that has kept a European in the Fund’s top job.
Okamoto said in a statement: “It’s at times like these when the Fund and its staff perform at their best in serving our member countries. I‘m looking forward to getting to work immediately and helping to lead the Fund in addressing the crisis at hand.”
Georgieva announced earlier this month that $50 billion was available for emergency loans to member countries for coronavirus responses.
“The IMF should consider liberally augmenting access to its rapid financing for a one-year period,” wrote Mark Sobel and Matthew Goodman, both former Treasury officials now associated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“The G20 should exhort the IMF and World Bank to remain vigilant; more support may be needed.”
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Nick Zieminski & Shri Navaratnam)