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.
Devaluing the dollar made U.S. exports cheaper to purchase for its trading partners, which in turn allegedly meant that other countries would buy more American-made goods and services.
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 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.
^Brook, A, F Sedillot and P Ollivaud (2004). "Channel 1: Exchange Rate Adjustment". OECD Economics Working Paper 390 - "Channels for Narrowing the US Current Account Deficit and Implications for Other Economies" (online ed.). Oxford; New York: OECD. p. 8, figure 3. doi:10.1787/263550547141.