The Plaza Accord or Plaza Agreement was an agreement between the governments of France, West Germany, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, to depreciate the U.S. dollar in relation to the Japanese yen and German Deutsche Mark by intervening in currency markets. The five governments signed the accord on September 22, 1985 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
Between 1980 and 1985 the dollar had appreciated by about 50% against the Japanese yen, Deutsche Mark, French Franc and British pound, the currencies of the next four biggest economies at the time. This caused considerable difficulties for American industry but at first their lobbying was largely ignored by government. The financial sector was able to profit from the rising dollar, and a depreciation would have run counter to Ronald Reagan's administration's plans for bringing down inflation. A broad alliance of manufacturers, service providers, and farmers responded by running an increasingly high-profile campaign asking for protection against foreign competition.
Major players included grain exporters, car producers, engineering companies like Caterpillar Inc., as well as high-tech companies including IBM and Motorola. By 1985, their campaign had acquired sufficient traction for Congress to begin considering passing protectionist laws. The prospect of trade restrictions spurred the White House to begin the negotiations that led to the Plaza Accord.
The justification for the dollar's devaluation was twofold: to reduce the U.S. current account deficit, which had reached 3.5% of the GDP, and to help the U.S. economy to emerge from a serious recession that began in the early 1980s. The U.S. Federal Reserve System under Paul Volcker had halted the stagflation crisis of the 1970s by raising interest rates, but this resulted in the dollar becoming overvalued to the extent that it made industry in the U.S. (particularly the automobile industry) less competitive in the global market.
The exchange rate value of the dollar versus the yen declined by 51% from 1985 to 1987. Most of this devaluation was due to the $10 billion spent by the participating central banks. Currency speculation caused the dollar to continue its fall after the end of coordinated interventions. Unlike some similar financial crises, such as the Mexican and the Argentine financial crises of 1994 and 2001 respectively, this devaluation was planned, done in an orderly, pre-announced manner and did not lead to financial panic in the world markets. The Plaza Accord was successful in reducing the U.S. trade deficit with Western European nations but largely failed to fulfill its primary objective of alleviating the trade deficit with Japan. This deficit was due to structural conditions that were insensitive to monetary policy, specifically trade conditions.
The manufactured goods of the United States became more competitive in the exports market but were still largely unable to succeed in the Japanese domestic market due to Japan's structural restrictions on imports.
The recessionary effects of the strengthened yen in Japan's export-dependent economy created an incentive for the expansionary monetary policies that led to the Japanese asset price bubble of the late 1980s. The Louvre Accord was signed in 1987 to halt the continuing decline of the U.S. dollar.
The signing of the Plaza Accord was significant in that it reflected Japan's emergence as a real player in managing the international monetary system. Yet it is postulated that it contributed to the Japanese asset price bubble, which ended up in a serious recession, the so-called Lost Decade.