Jack Lew: Here's the remedy for strong dollar pain

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew believes eliminating growth disparities between the U.S. and pockets of the global economy can remedy issues at home—including corporate headwinds from a soaring dollar.

Lew noted Wednesday that despite a sluggish first quarter, he sees an American economy "in comparative terms stronger" than the rest of the world. Eliminating the performance gap through economic reforms is key to sustainability, he said.

"I think to the extent that other economies around the world were stronger, it would actually help to address the disparity in currency values," Lew told CNBC in an interview from Washington, D.C., where the International Monetary Fund is holding its spring meetings this week.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
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U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew

The U.S. dollar has climbed 23 percent against a trade-weighted basket of global currencies in the last year. In first-quarter earnings reports, American corporations across a variety of sectors have cited the challenges posed by currency strength.

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"Some pretty unique things," including a labor dispute that gridlocked some West Coast ports and rough winter weather, tripped up the wider U.S. economy in the first quarter, Lew said. He remains optimistic despite the IMF on Tuesday cutting its full-year U.S. growth outlook to 3.1 percent, from 3.6 percent previously.

"I feel pretty confident that the U.S. economy will do pretty well for the rest of the year," Lew said.

A string of sluggish consumer indicators has also fueled doubts about sustained growth in the U.S. Declining retail sales throughout the winter months—despite cheap oil putting more money in consumer pockets—have raised concerns.

But disappointing consumer readings may not prove dire, Lew said. If Americans pay down debt with extra money rather than spend it, it may provide a long-term boon, he said.

Some market watchers have recently warned that a troubling lack of liquidity lingers underneath the relative strength of the U.S. economy. Former Treasury secretaries Larry Summers and Henry Paulson, among others, have outlined the risks present in currency and Treasury market volatility.

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Lew noted that the Treasury has monitored market liquidity, including the possible causes of a sharp plunge in bond yields in October.

"We are constantly watching the factors that are at work that affect market liquidity," Lew said.

He noted that geopolitical concerns at the time and a "huge amount" of electronic trading may have contributed to the movement. Lew added that he doesn't believe the regulatory environment was "the predominant factor" driving the volatility.