The dollar may be the world’s main global currency, but it does not serve in that capacity alone. The euro has served as an alternative since its introduction in 1999, when it took the place of the Deutschemark and the other European currencies that had also been used for that purpose. Will the renminbi become the next viable alternative?
A new volume, How Global Currencies Work: Past, Present and Future by Barry Eichengreen of the University of California-Berkeley and Arnaud Mehl and Livia Chiţu of the European Central Bank examines the record of the use of national currencies outside their borders. The authors point out that regimes of multiple global currencies have been the norm rather than an exception. Central banks held reserves in German marks and French francs as well as British sterling during the period of British hegemony, while the dollar became an alternative to sterling in the 1920s. The authors foresee an increased use of China’s renminbi and “..a future in which several national currencies will serve as units of account, means of payments, and stores of value for transactions across borders.”
Camilo E. Tovar and Tania Mohd Nor of the IMF examine the use of the reminbi as a global currency in a IMF working paper, “Reserve Currency Blocs: A Changing International Monetary System.” They claim that the international monetary system has transitioned for a bi-polar one based on the dollar and the euro to a tri-polar system that also includes the renminbi. They provide estimates of a dollar bloc equal in value to 40% of global GDP that is complemented by a renminbi bloc valued at 30% of global GDP and a euro bloc worth 20% of world output. The renminbi bloc, however, is not primarily Asian, but rather dominated by the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). This suggests that its increased use may be due to geopolitical reasons rather than widespread regional use.