Unilateral International Transfers: Unrequited and Generally Unheeded

by Norman S. Fieleke<
November/December 1996

Among the major categories of international transactions, perhaps none is usually farther from the limelight than unilateral, or unrequited, transfers. This obscurity is puzzling, because countries' net receipts or payments of unrequited transfers often exceed their international balances on both trade and current account and sometimes amount to sizable fractions of their national incomes, and maintaining equilibrium in international payments in the face of sizable transfers is a challenging issue.

This article discusses the singular nature of unrequited transfers, recalls an historic, and still relevant, controversy over their economic impact, and recounts an effort by the United States to neutralize their balance-of-payments consequences. The size of these transfers in recent years, and some plausible explanations for them, are then evaluated, with most attention given to those of the United States.

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