G-20 officials to wrestle over economic imbalances

Rifts among the world's top financial officials are threatening to stymie their attempts to secure future global growth and break a deadlock over who bears the cost of fighting climate change.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 rich and developing nations meeting here also face divisions on whether it is too soon to pull the plug on the extraordinary stimulus measures to boost economic growth.

Host country Britain, still mired in recession, is keen to continued international effort to support a still fledging recovery, while other G20 nations, including the United States, Japan and Germany, want to debate ending measures to boost growth.

British Treasury chief Alistair Darling urged the group ahead of a working dinner on Friday to maintain the collective approach forged in more dire circumstances at summits in London in April and in Pittsburgh in September.

"There can be no room for complacency amongst G-20 countries this weekend," Darling said in a speech in Edinburgh on his way to chair the grouping that represents around 90 percent of the world's wealth, 80 percent of world trade, and two-thirds of the world's population.

Darling acknowledged that plans for recovery must eventually be coordinated, but said "as we draw up our plans, we must accept that the biggest risk to recovery would be to exit before the recovery is real."

Saturday's talks among officials — holed up away from the blustering Scottish winds in a seaside golf resort — are focused on tackling the financial cost of climate change.

With the major UN climate conference in Copenhagen a month away, Darling said that "heavy lifting" was needed to push through a deal on so-called climate finance, which would give developing countries funds to help them cut emissions by switching from fossil fuels to cleaner energy such as wind and solar.

But there have been disagreements about which forum was the most appropriate place to discuss funding to fight climate change.

The push to put it at the agenda here reflects concern that nations will fail to agree on a successor to the Kyoto treaty limiting carbon emissions in Copenhagen on Dec. 6.

The EU, which last week agreed to a euro100 billion annual package of public and private finance by 2020 to help poorer nations develop green industries and adapt to climate change, is keen for the U.S. to clearly lay out its position.

"We need further progress, the Americans have to be more specific and also more clear about their contribution," Swedish finance minister Anders Borg said on Friday. Sweden currently holds the EU chair.

But the Obama administration has been preoccupied with prickly domestic issues such as healthcare.

The climate issue has been the focus of protests around St. Andrews, a university town on the northeast coast. A "People's G-20" is planned for the beachfront on Saturday after a small group of protesters blocked the coastal road Friday night between the town and the nearby resort where the meeting was held by chaining themselves together.

Throwing weight behind the gathering of officials, Darling will be joined on Saturday by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The finance ministers and central bankers are trying to find a way to make good on a pledge by world leaders at their September summit in Pittsburgh to subject their economic policies to the scrutiny of a peer review. That process would determine whether each country's efforts were "collectively consistent" with sustainable global growth.

The goal is to avoid repeating problems like huge trade deficits and credit-fueled consumption in the U.S., and massive trade surpluses and savings in China and elsewhere. China's appetite to fund U.S. debt by buying Treasuries was seen as playing a major role in fueling the U.S. housing boom and subsequent collapse.

Finance officials will seek to decide what economic data each country will submit for review by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF will review the individual country data and submit a report that would form the basis for discussion at the June meeting in Canada.

It is unclear, however, just how detailed and effective the reports will be — given governments resistance to outside pressure to change their economic policies.

Highlighting the problem is resistance to confront exchange rate issues, which could play a key role in correcting trade imbalances. While the weakness of the U.S. dollar and the strength of the Chinese yuan will almost certainly be discussed to some degree, the currency issue is not on the formal agenda.

There also disagreements on banking reform, with Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledging on the eve of the meeting that there were "disparate views" on how to address the problem of banks being too big to fail. France, meanwhile, is continuing to press for more to be done to stop excessive bonuses in the banking sector, warning that the momentum behind tightening rules on bonuses is flagging.

The G-20 is comprised of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the rotating EU presidency.

source AFP

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