June 7, 2017 6:15 am JST

Japan to promote direct Asian currency exchanges

Talks planned with Thailand on bypassing dollar to cut conversion costs

Most exchanges of yen for baht, shown here, still involve the dollar as an intermediary. © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan's Ministry of Finance seeks to create a market enabling direct exchanges of the yen and other Asian currencies without using the dollar as an intermediary, an idea that could reduce funding costs for financial institutions and businesses.

The proposal is a key part of a comprehensive plan to encourage broader use of Asian currencies, which will be laid out at a committee meeting as early as next week.

Japan will start off by approaching Thailand. Though the yen and the baht already can be exchanged directly, transactions still typically involve converting yen into dollars to buy baht, due to the greenback's superior liquidity. Direct conversions would let businesses pay less in fees to the financial institutions handling the transactions, as well as reduce exposure to U.S. monetary policy and economic conditions.

Thailand imposes a cap of 300 million baht ($8.83 million) on cash balances in baht-denominated accounts held by nonresidents. Tokyo will ask Bangkok to raise this ceiling to facilitate direct conversions involving yen by ensuring enough currency is available.

The Finance Ministry also will encourage Japanese banks operating elsewhere in Asia to adopt the Japanese Bankers Association's system for remittances and other yen transactions. Though some challenges remain, such as verifying parties' identity to ensure that cross-border money flows are not used to fund terrorism, broader use of the network should speed up yen transfers from Japan.

Japan will also push for swap agreements that let private-sector financial institutions access yen and other Asian currencies during financial crises. It proposed yen-based swaps to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in May, with Indonesia among those expressing interest.

(Nikkei)

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