G20 leaders agree to fight protectionism

Thursday, April 2, 2009

London - Leaders from the Group of 20 (G-20) have agreed to fight protectionism at their first plenary session on Thursday morning.

In a brief opening statement, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown outlined a working plan for the discussion, calling on leaders to finalise the joint communique which covers banking regulations.

Mr Brown said the world leaders attending summit are anxious to reach agreements on major points, including a joint call to resist protectionism, and to strengthen financial regulation.

The leaders are expected to have a busy day of intensive talks, which started with Mr Brown hosting a working breakfast, followed by two plenary sessions. A joint communique will be issued at the end of the summit.

The summit started with a breakfast scheduled at 8:30am local time after the leaders were greeted by Mr Brown at the entrance of London's exhibition censer, or ExCel London, in eastern London. The breakfast provided an opportunity for the leaders to exchange views in an informal way before their formal talks later in the day.

Security is tight around the venue. Police can be seen at every crossroads within about five kilometers. Journalists have to pass through two security checkpoints to get to the press censer, where about 2200 registered journalists work and many of them stayed for the night.

Outside the Excel, anti-capitalist protesters started their second day of protests. On Wednesday, at least 87 were arrested and one protester died, London's police said.

Mr Brown, the host, who made a global trip and met the leaders to prepare for the summit, said he was confident that the summit will produce consensus on a global plan for economic recovery and reform.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed his belief on Thursday that a consensus will be reached on the economic stimulus and regulation.

"There is a real willingness to have convergence at the end of this summit and so I really believe that at the end we'll have a consensus around the two points that sometimes appear as differences: the stimulus of the economy and regulation," he told reporters.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe urged extra help for developing economies at the summit.

"We are here to put across the position of the developing world, particularly with regards to the need to protect jobs because it's the impact on the real economy which affects ordinary working people ... if we're to find an everlasting solution we must develop a response that is inclusive of working people," he told BBC.

Expectations are high that the leaders of the world's largest economies would be committed to a coordinated response to the economic crisis, an overhaul of the global financial architecture and restraint from protectionism.

Attending the meeting are leaders from Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Russia, Turkey, the United States and the European Union (EU).

Top officials from the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are also joining the gathering.

The leaders will be aiming to enhance coordination of a global fiscal stimulus, reach a consensus on increasing loans to the IMF and reaffirm commitment to anti-protectionism to help restore global sustainable economic growth and stabilize the financial market.

But the outcome of the summit, however, rests with participants' ability to bridge their differences on economic stimulus plans and reforming the global financial system.

While the White House has pushed for more fiscal measures to help the economy, major European countries, notably Germany and France, remain sceptical about this and they mainly focus on tightening financial regulation and reforming the world financial system to prevent such a crisis in future.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly has threatened to walk out of the London summit if his demands for stronger financial regulations were not met.

Speaking in an interview with French radio Europe 1 on Wednesday, President Sarkozy reiterated that he wouldn't want to "associate" himself with a G20 that would be concluded by "false compromises."

He said neither France nor Germany is satisfied with the current draft of the G20 statement, which he said should go even further on tightening financial regulations. "Regulation is at the heart of the debate," President Sarkozy said.

Major developing countries also support reforming the world financial system, but they insist that should have a bigger say in multilateral financial discussion and relevant policy-making process.

The fact that the G20 has usurped the G8 as the main forum for discussing the crisis already illustrates a shift in the economic and diplomatic landscape with the emergence of India, Brazil and, particularly, China as major players.