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Economy

BOJ's international conference should be more open, like Jackson Hole

TOKYO -- In August every year, the annual Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium, held in Jackson Hole, in the U.S. state of Wyoming, attracts the attention of the global financial markets. The symposium is attended by central bankers of major countries, including Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda.

Beautiful mountain views of Grand Teton National Park are seen from the lobby of Jackson Lake Lodge.

     Again this year, the global financial markets were quick to pick up on hints of interest rate hikes in remarks by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, which sent the yen weakening against the dollar. And the lecture of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi raised expectations for additional monetary easing in Europe.

     Surprisingly, the symposium has close ties to the BOJ.

     The Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium is sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The first symposium was held in 1978, but global monetary policy was not on the agenda in its early days.

     Kazumasa Iwata, president of the Japan Center for Economic Research, recalls in his book "Defure to no Tatakai (Battle with Deflation)" his experience visiting Jackson Hole every year for five years from 2003 as BOJ deputy governor.

     When Iwata asked Barry Robinson, former vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, at the dinner how the symposium first began, Robinson said that in the beginning the main topics of discussion were water resources in the region and other local issues. What changed it into a forum on global monetary policy was the international conference sponsored by the BOJ, he said.

     Robinson was referring to the BOJ International Conference, which the central bank began in 1983 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its formation. The first conference invited Milton Friedman, the main proponent of monetarism, and Keynesian economist James Tobin to speak.

     The resulting debate between the two economists, who rarely participated in the same conference, is legendary within the BOJ. Robinson pointed out that the BOJ's style of inviting central bankers and economists and having discussions has become a model for the Jackson Hole symposium. 

     Central banks around the world have held large international conferences in recent months.

     In May, the European Central Bank held its first ECB Forum in the city of Sintra, Portugal, inviting about 150 central bankers, scholars and economists from around the world. The ECB apparently wants its forum to become the European version of the Jackson Hole symposium. 

     In Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the equivalent of a central bank in that country, also held its inaugural Asian Monetary Policy Forum in May.

     Meanwhile, the BOJ International Conference is not drawing much attention in the market as lectures and panel discussions are closed to non-participants, and the media can only cover the governor's opening remarks. Raghuram Rajan, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, also participated in the conference in May, but he didn't appear before the media.

     A senior BOJ official said that even the central bankers around the world give due respect to the quality of discussions at the BOJ conference. However, reporters are not allowed to wait for participants to come out of the venues, like they do at the Jackson Hole symposium, and minutes of the conference are not released until six months later.

     Attracting too much attention from the market and media and reacting immoderately to the voices of participants have advantages and disadvantages. However, this year's Jackson Hole symposium was more open to media, disclosing the schedule, agenda and participants' names in advance. Even BOJ Gov. Kuroda, who participated in the symposium, spoke to reporters this year.

     There are calls within the BOJ to make its international conference more open, according to a senior BOJ official. The central bank's conference must make its presence felt as a forum as it once did, as a model for the Jackson Hole symposium.

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