WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- China's yuan moved closer to joining other top global currencies in the International Monetary Fund's benchmark foreign exchange basket on Friday after Fund staff and IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave the move the thumbs-up.
The recommendation paves the way for the Fund's executive board, which has the final say, to place the yuan on a par with the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, British pound and euro at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 30.
Joining the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket would be a victory for Beijing, which has campaigned hard for the move, and could increase demand for the yuan among reserve managers as well as marking a symbolic coming of age for the world's second-largest economy.
Staff had found the yuan, also known as the renminbi (RMB), met the criteria of being “freely usable,” or widely used for international transactions and widely traded in major foreign exchange markets, Lagarde said.
“I support the staff’s findings," she said in a statement immediately welcomed by China's central bank, which said it hoped the international community would also back the yuan's inclusion.
Staff also gave the green light to Beijing's efforts to address operational issues identified in a report in July, Lagarde said.
The executive board, which represents the Fund's 188 members, is seen as unlikely to go against a staff recommendation and countries including France and Britain have already pledged their support for the change. This would take effect in October 2016, during China's leadership of the Group of 20 bloc of advanced and emerging economies.
The United States, the Fund's biggest shareholder, has said it would back the yuan's inclusion if it met the IMF's criteria, a U.S. Treasury spokesperson said, adding: "We will review the IMF’s paper in that light."
If the yuan's addition wins 70 percent or more of IMF board votes, it will be the first time the number of currencies in the SDR basket - which determines the composition of loans made to countries such as Greece - has been expanded.
China has rolled out a flurry of reforms recently to liberalize its markets and also help the yuan meet the IMF's checklist, including scrapping a ceiling on deposit rates, issuing three-month Treasury bills weekly and improving the transparency of Chinese data.
Currency analysts say making the yuan the fifth currency in the basket could eventually lead to global demand for the currency worth more than $500 billion.
The People's Bank of China said the statement was an acknowledgment of the progress China had made in reforms and opening up its economy.
"The inclusion of the RMB in the SDR basket would increase the representativeness and attractiveness of the SDR, and help improve the current international monetary system, which would benefit both China and the rest of the world," the PBOC said in a statement.
China would respect the board's decision and continue to deepen economic reforms, the PBOC said.
(Additional reporting by Timothy Ahmann in Washington and Jason Subler in Beijing; Editing by Chris Reese and James Dalgleish)