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G20 nations see different recovery paths

With leading nations due to convene in Toronto this weekend for the Group of 20 summit, officials are trying to downplay their differences when it comes to economic recovery paths.
/ Source: news services

With leading nations due to convene in Toronto this weekend for the Group of 20 summit, officials tried to downplay differences between the United States and Europe over how quickly to shift from crisis-fighting mode to budgetary belt-tightening.

"That's the delicate balance that we need to try to strike this weekend," Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said.

His U.S. counterpart, Timothy Geithner, said each country needed to decide what policy mix made sense to ensure both growth and fiscal responsibility.

"Our job is to make sure we're all sitting there together, focused on this challenge of growth and confidence because growth and confidence are paramount," he said in an interview with BBC World News America.

Speaking to reporters as he left the White House Friday morning to attend the economic summit, President Barack Obama said he was "gratified" for Congress' work on agreeing to a sweeping overhaul of the rules overseeing Wall Street — the toughest financial overhaul since the Great Depression.

"We've all seen what happens when there is inadequate oversight and insufficient transparency on Wall Street," he said. "The reforms working their way through Congress will hold Wall Street accountable so we can help prevent another financial crisis like the one that we're still recovering from."

Asked by reporters whether he can get the financial measure through the Senate, Obama said, "You bet." He said he will discuss the regulations with other leaders at the Toronto meeting because the recent economic crisis proves that the world's economies are linked.

World leaders are aiming for a common target of securing the economic recovery, but disagree over how best to reach it.

The G20 club of rich and emerging economies joined forces at the height of the global financial panic and poured an estimated $5 trillion into stimulus spending, emergency loans and bank guarantees, helping to ward off a global depression.

The group still has a long and difficult to-do list, including forging consensus on new rules about how much capital that banks must hold, and making sure national financial regulatory reforms do not clash on a global scale.

The cost of fighting the financial crisis and recession left gaping holes in government finances, and Greece's debt troubles have focused Europe's attention on the need to shrink budget deficits before investors lose patience.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Europe could no longer afford to borrow and spend, and must repair budgets in order to rebuild confidence for growth.

"It will not be a change overnight but there is no more room for deficit spending," Barroso told a news conference in Toronto.

The United States wants to make sure European countries — Germany, in particular — do not remove government supports too quickly because that could derail the recovery.

President Obama, pushing Washington's pro-growth, line, said "surplus countries" — often code for Germany and China — must find ways to stimulate growth. But he also acknowledged that countries including the United States with medium- and long-term deficit problems would have to address them.

"Not every country is going to respond exactly the same way, but all of us are going to have responsibilities to rebalance in ways that allow for long-term, sustained economic growth," Obama said in Washington during an appearance with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Thursday.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers, in an interview with Reuters, also stressed that growth would be key, but said it was not simply a matter of choosing between austerity and expansion.

"There obviously is an importance in having a growth strategy, but I think it's too simple to think of growth strategies only as running budget deficits or printing money," he said.

In Europe, senior officials were in no mood to back down on their plans to cut spending.

Saying she expected "controversial discussions" in Toronto over Europe's budget priorities, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Berlin would forge ahead with its biggest program of fiscal cutbacks since World War Two.

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet dismissed the idea budget cuts could torpedo the fragile economic recovery that is taking hold.

"The idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect," Trichet told Italian newspaper La Repubblica, describing the German budget plans as "good" and repeating calls for more fiscal discipline in the 16-nation euro zone.

Merkel, who aims to save 80 billion euros in the next four years, told ARD television that sustained growth could only be guaranteed through getting a grip on deficits and debt.

"I and the EU will argue this position. There are others who are not yet so convinced of this exit strategy," she said.

The G20, which includes the world's biggest economies and two-thirds of its population, holds its summit in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday. It will be preceded by a meeting on Friday and Saturday of the G8, composed of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Downtown Toronto's downtown banking district has seen business drop off as heavy security is mounted. Canadian police said on Thursday they had arrested the driver of a car near the meeting site who was carrying a chainsaw, crossbow and fuel containers.

Economic policy has not been the only issue dividing the G20, which has also seen its unity tested by reforms to the banking sector.

European proposals for global taxes on banks and financial transactions have run into opposition from countries like Canada that say their banks are in good health.

European countries are concerned that planned new rules requiring banks to set aside more capital may crimp lending.

Obama signaled on Thursday that China's move this week to relax the peg of its currency, the yuan, to the dollar may not be enough to shield Beijing from accusations that it is using the currency to gain an unfair trade advantage.

"The initial signs were positive. But it is too early to tell whether the appreciation, that will track the market, is sufficient to allow for the rebalancing that we think is appropriate," Obama said.

The yuan has risen by about 0.4 percent against the dollar since Beijing's policy change -- a significant step relative to its earlier freeze, but far less than the 25 to 40 percent increase that some analysts say it needs to make to achieve fair value.