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This chapter provides an historical account of why the institutional setting of the BIS has been conducive to the emergence of soft law as a critical tool for managing the global financial system. Soft law developed almost naturally at the BIS as a result of the many technocratic issues it was called on to deal with throughout its long history – be it German reparation payments in the 1930s, the management of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in the 1960s or growing financial stability concerns in the 1970s and 1980s and beyond. The Basel I Capital Accord, adopted in 1988, was a political and regulatory watershed in that respect – a non-binding code of conduct agreed by an informal committee of experts (the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision), that was subsequently implemented by national legislation in all the main constituencies. The chapter argues that the relative success of soft law in financial regulation owes a lot to the particular set-up and traditions of the BIS. However, it concludes that in order to be successful in future, soft law – much like the BIS – will have to become ever more inclusive and transparent.
It is a commonplace to state that we live in a time of continuous change. But that doesn’t make it any less true. The force and impact of change become all the more obvious when considering a horizon that spans two generations. Fifty years ago, a mere handful of advanced industrial economies dominated the global economy. Since then, a wide array of countries have emerged as new economic powerhouses. Economic development and prosperity are now more equally spread across the globe than at any other time over at least the past two centuries.
As the global organisation of central banks, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has played a significant role in the momentous changes the international monetary and financial system has undergone over the past half century. This book offers a key contribution to understanding these changes. It explores the rise of the emerging market economies, the resulting shifts in the governance of the international financial system, and the role of central bank cooperation in this process. In this truly multidisciplinary effort, scholars from the fields of economics, history, political science and law unravel the most poignant episodes that marked this period, including European monetary unification, the paradigm shifts in economic and financial analysis, the origins and influence of macro-financial stability frameworks, the rise of soft law in international financial governance, central bank crisis management in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis, and, finally, the institutional evolution of the BIS itself.
As highlighted in Chapter 4 of this volume, lower-income developing countries are not fully integrated in the global financial system. They are not only under-represented in major decision-making forums; they also remain largely excluded from the flow of substantial private external financing. To correct this architectural weakness, the international community has stepped in to provide substantial amounts of bilateral and multilateral official financing, either through grants or concessional lending. This concessional official financing – generally described as ‘development aid’ – makes up the lion's share of external capital flows to low-income countries (see Chapter 4, Table 4.1). The aid architecture thus remains an important subset of the global financial architecture. It can be defined as the set of rules and institutions affecting aid flows, including the way aid is allocated, the modalities through which it is delivered and its accompanying conditionality requirements.
Although only loosely linked to changes in the overall global financial architecture, the aid system over the last few years has been witnessing a transformation, with policy changes at both the bilateral and multilateral donor levels and actions at the level of individual recipient countries. Overall, these changes aim to considerably improve the effectiveness of aid, to the extent that aid scholars refer to a ‘paradigm shift’ (Renard 2006). We thus aim to document how changes in this subset of the overall international financial architecture have affected actual behaviour.
The new Basel capital accord (B-II) promulgated by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BC) was intended as a centrepiece of the financial architecture reforms that followed the crises of the 1990s (for the broader context, see Part I of this volume). B-II established a new approach to measuring capital adequacy of internationally active banks in a context of consolidated supervision of increased cross-border banking activities. Its impact will be felt well beyond the BC's G10-member financial institutions. In addition, the BC continues to set a broad range of global standards for financial regulation and prudential supervision. While B-II is ostensibly, in part at least, about creating a more level playing field among internationally active banks, this chapter provides evidence that the impact of B-II will be far from neutral on competition among different types of banks and, crucially, on the cost and availability of capital for developing countries. Furthermore, we demonstrate how B-II's inherent pro-cyclicality has an especially large impact on developing countries. Combined with B-II's reliance on rating agencies, biases against small and medium enterprises, and high costs of implementation for developing countries (see also chapter by Ocampo and Griffith-Jones in this volume), its potentially distorted impact on competition and pro-cyclicality considerably hampers B-II's effectiveness as a global supervisory standard to provide financial stability. Arguably, B-II and the market-based approach to financial supervision which the BC promoted from the 1996 Market Risk Amendment to B-I were central factors behind the emergence of the global financial crisis.