A day in the life of...Rodrigo de Rato, IMF Managing director</h2>

IMF's new man takes Spanish inquisition
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The Independent Online


Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, prepares for a crucial day in the life of the global financial watchdog. The meetings of its 184 members start today but it is a vital to ensure he casts the debate on his terms, especially to the media. At the top of the agenda is his plan to create a new image and purpose for an organisation that Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, recently described as "slipping into obscurity".


He arrives at the IMF's landmark headquarters for a breakfast meeting in the main dining room on the second floor. Known poetically as the Troika breakfast, it brings together Paul Wolfowitz, the president of the World Bank, and Alberto Carrasquilla, chairman of the joint IMF/Bank Development Committee. The meeting runs through the issues of Sunday's committee and pins down final details.


A little later than scheduled, he holds a brief meeting with his advisers before the press conference which will set the tone of the media coverage. "There's a very great interest in the media regarding the future of this institution," he says. "That's encouraging. We are not facing a lack of support, but strong support to move this forward."

A key event is the meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee that acts as the advisory body for the whole membership. Mr de Rato is looking for a mandate on two key parts of his strategy. One is to establish a multilateral process within the IMF to encourage key countries to take action to reduce the global imbalances. Out go annual bureaucratic assessments of every country's economy, offering policy advice to governments that neither need nor want it. In comes a multilateral consultation process that would allow the IMF to take up issues collectively with different countries and groupings on the impact and spill-over effects of their policies on the wider world. For example, rather than simply lecturing the US about the need to cut its deficits and telling China to lets its currency appreciate, the IMF could co-ordinate a wider debate about how to resolve these two interconnected issues. "This is not a modest proposal," Mr de Rato says with some understatement.


Roughly 100 journalists, camera crews and photographers pile into the windowless media briefing room two floors below ground level. Mr de Rato outlines his agenda. He claims there is "strong support" from governments for his proposals on multilateral consultations.

Questions come thick and fast, with many journalists keen to exploit a rare opportunity to quiz the head of the IMF about the impact of the fund's policies on, for example, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Italy, Turkey and Russia.

But the rest focus on reform of the IMF, and it is clear the media want more details about how the multilateral system will work, and indeed why it should succeed in persuading governments to take steps that might be unpopular domestically.

He grabs the opportunity to insist he is not proposing a new committee or a replacement for the G7, G8, G24 country groupings. "This will be a multilateral consultation process with systemically important countries that are the ones who can affect, through their linkages and spill-overs, the evolution of global imbalances," he says. Mr de Rato gives long answers, so after just nine questions the briefing is wound up. An hour later, Mr Wolfowitz will have his press briefing disrupted by four anti-globalisation protesters, chanting: "IMF and World Bank; global poverty ­ who do we thank?".


Unaware of the protest, Mr de Rato goes to a soundproofed media suite for interviews with five television and radio channels. As economy minister for the centre-right Popular Party between 1996 and 2004, when the Socialists won power, Mr de Rato is used to TV and his advisers say he comes across more naturally than at press conferences.


Mr de Rato has to take his message to the analysts, lobbyists, policy wonks and think-tanks that dominate the Washington scene. He heads off to a lunch meeting to discuss IMF reform attended by some 300 people at the Institute for International Economics (IIE) , a non-partisan research body. This includes Mohamed El-Erian, the hedge fund manager who lost out to Mr de Rato in the race for the IMF job.

Mr de Rato uses his speech to issue a light-hearted response to Mervyn King's plea for the IMF to stop acting as a football referee " brandishing red and yellow cards" and behave more like a cricket umpire making sure that players abide with the spirit of the game.

"I have some problems with this analogy. The rules of cricket are impossible to explain and any response I give to them is likely to generate the headline 'the umpire strikes back'." The joke goes down well and he develops the analogy to insist the IMF is not "outside the game" and that globalisation has created a "whole new ball game".

Edwin Truman, an IIE fellow who worked at the Treasury under Bill Clinton and who drafted his own strategy for IMF reform, gives Mr de Rato's a 60 per cent chance of success. This is up from just 20 per cent last year, which IMF officials see as a strong endorsement. Mr de Rato has lunch during the IIE event, which lasts two hours and 15 minutes.


Back at the IMF, Mr de Rato meets nine Spanish journalists in his dining room. As a former minister he retains a high profile in Spain, and has been talked about as a future Popular Party leader. Surprisingly, none of the 18 questions is about Spanish politics. Instead, Mr de Rato, who holds an MBA from Berkeley and a doctorate in economics, parries a questions on the oil market, geopolitical risks, his reform plans and the possibility of greater flexibility in China's exchange rate.


Mr de Rato sets aside half an hour for The Independent in his spacious office on the 12th floor with a view over the wooded suburbs of adjacent Virginia. At the morning press conference he side-stepped a question on whether the shift from anti-globalisation protests on the streets to protectionist sentiment among politicians in Europe and the US, who have blocked foreign takeovers and imposed tariffs against China, meant the IMF was losing the debate.

When the question is put again, Mr de Rato gets very animated, dismissing the idea that Western governments are anti-globalisers. "I don't think that's the reason. What you see now in different degrees is some return to protectionism. That is really negative from many points of view and goes against the interests of the world economy and those economies who have benefited from globalisation and consumers in Europe who have benefited from globalisation making products much cheaper.

"Certainly there are politicians who have tried to put forward some kind of nationalist slant ,and that is extremely disturbing."


In his final official engagement Mr de Rato holds bilateral meetings with Italy, Germany, Argentina and the European Commission. At 6pm he meets an eight-strong delegation from Germany led by Peer Steinbrück, the finance minister. He spends an hour with the Argentine delegation. Between 8.05pm and 8.30pm he meets seven EC officials led by Joaquin Almunia, the commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.


The 57-year-old father-of-three leaves the IMF for a private dinner, later returning to his Washington home.


Finally Mr de Rato is allowed to relax with a book, Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, a history of the era of Christopher Columbus when the Spanish empire dominated the world.