Home > For beginners > History of Foreign Exchange > Forex history: Bretton Woods agreement

Forex history: Bretton Woods agreement

The Bretton Woods Accord

The Bretton Woods Accord was a major transformation in the way money was exchanged around the world. It began near the end of World War II and was the result of an agreement between France, Great Britain and the United States. The meeting was held at the United Nations' Monetary and Financial Conference with the goal of designing a new economic order.

This location was designated as the meeting place because at the time, the U.S. was the only country in which a war wasn't being fought. And, many European countries had been nearly destroyed by war. Before World War II, the major currency by which most of the world's currencies were compared was Great Britain's British Pound.

When the Nazi's started their campaign against Britain, this practice changed due to their major effort in counterfeiting the currency. The stock market crash in 1929 had resulted in the U.S. dollar having very little value. However, World War II stabilized its value and helped it become the monetary standard. The main purpose of the Bretton Woods Accord was to establish a stable economic environment around the globe so countries could re-establish themselves.

The world's major currencies became pegged by the U.S. dollar and could only fluctuate as much as one percent in value either lower or higher. Anytime that the exchange rate of a particular currency would approach the allowed fluctuation, intervention from the countries central bank would bring the rate back into the standard range. By associating the U.S. dollar with gold, which at the time was $35 per ounce, the Forex situation was also stabilized.

At the Bretton Woods conference, John Maynard Keynes had suggested a new world reserve currency would be much better than a system that was built upon the U.S. dollar. But, this suggestion was quickly rejected. The exchange rates finally settled upon helped to reinstate the standard of gold by setting the dollar at the current per ounce price and then setting the other major currencies to the dollar. This system was meant to be a permanent standard for exchanging currencies.

National economies began to move in different directions during the 1960's, placing and increasing amount of pressure on the Bretton Woods system. Through a series of adjustments to the system, it remained in effect for some time. However, in August 1971 U.S. President Nixon suspended the conversion of gold and the system collapsed. At a time when pressure was also increasing on trade deficits and the U.S. budget, the dollar became unsuitable as the only international currency.