A U.S. drive to build a more balanced global economy gained the qualified support of China on Wednesday in a sign that Group of 20 leaders may be ready to take joint action to prevent future economic crises.
U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders of the G20 major developed and developing countries are due to meet in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday, with restoring economic growth and rewriting the rules of finance high on the agenda.
Central to the summit -- the third since the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank a year ago -- will be a U.S. plan to correct the imbalances in the world economy by shrinking surpluses in big exporting countries like China and boosting savings in debt-laden nations that include the United States.
Obama wants a framework of mutual assessment whereby the International Monetary Fund makes policy recommendations on rebalancing to the G20 every six months.
Analysts believe Obama's plan will meet resistance from Beijing should it pose any risk to China's export-driven economic growth. So far, China is sounding engaged.
We approve of countries strengthening their macroeconomic policy coordination and together pushing forward the sustainable and balanced development of the world economy, China's Foreign Ministry said.
China sounded much less sure about concrete coordinated policy action, saying advice from international financial bodies should be for reference only.
A senior Obama administration official said China had warmed to the rebalancing proposal. I think there has been a significant evolution in their thinking about this issue over the course of the (economic) crisis, he said.
Rebalancing the world economy, by getting Chinese consumers to spend more for example, would take a monumental effort.
China's private consumption equals little more than a third of its economy. In the United States and Britain, consumption accounted for nearly three-quarters of the economy in boom times. By contrast, Chinese and Indian households last year saved about 40 percent and 32 percent of their disposable incomes. The U.S. savings rate was just 3.2 percent.
As a possible sweetener for backing the plan, the United States is offering developing countries a greater role at international bodies like the IMF.
Investors will look for hints at the summit as to how quickly the United States and Europe will wind down huge emergency stimulus programs without risking a new recession.
Diplomats were working into the night to narrow differences before leaders arrive on Thursday in Pittsburgh, a once grimy steel town chosen by Obama to host the summit in recognition of its growing transformation into a high-tech center.
Europe also has concerns about the U.S. rebalancing plan. Germany, the world's biggest exporter of goods last year, signaled some coolness to the idea, with a government spokesman saying Berlin wanted to focus on financial market regulation.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso worried the G20 might hold too much sway over the global economy.
Barroso told Reuters that reinforcement should not be done at the cost of existing institutions that have specific, well- established mandates like the IMF, or even the World Bank. We cannot dilute the IMF's position.
Also on the summit table are proposals to rework the rules of global finance so banks, and bankers, take fewer risks.
The European Union unveiled a blueprint for a banking super-watchdog and a pan-European supervisor that it hopes can be replicated on the global stage.
The EU said the watchdog could overrule states such as Britain, which is fighting to keep control over the centerpiece of its economy, the City of London financial center.
Our aim is to protect European taxpayers from a repeat of the dark days of autumn 2008, when governments had to pour billions of euros into the banks, Barroso said.
The rules to reform the financial industry -- widely blamed for causing the economic slump -- need approval by the 27 EU national governments and the European Parliament.
But the sense of urgency with which the global reform drive was launched a year ago is fizzling as economies recover.
The Pittsburgh meetings are the first major summit hosted by Obama and he is under pressure to produce results on a slew of foreign policy problems.
On Wednesday, he issued a blunt message to world leaders at his U.N. debut, saying other countries must shoulder a larger burden in tackling international crises.
Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone, Obama said. Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility.
Europe also wants a deal on executive pay, a message pushed on Wednesday by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
We clearly want a ceiling on the amount of bonuses, for example, as a percentage of their revenues, as a part of their capital, and that's what we're talking about at this moment, the French president said in a television interview.
The senior U.S. official said progress had been made on pay: I think we're narrowing our differences.
He doubted currency issues would feature prominently in G20 discussions, when asked about French concerns about the strength of the euro.
TRADE, GLOBAL WARMING ALSO ON AGENDA
Also up for discussion will be reforms to the IMF, trade policy and global warming before a crucial round of negotiations on climate change in December.
G20 finance ministers earlier this month made little progress on how much industrial nations should contribute to help developing nations deal with global warming.
The United States is pressing G20 partners to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, a proposal likely to be resisted by countries such as China and India.
India's prime minister called for a strong warning against trade protectionism as he set out for Pittsburgh.
Activists from environmental group Greenpeace rappelled off one of Pittsburgh's bridges with a banner displaying the message: Danger. Climate Destruction Ahead. Reduce CO2 Emissions Now.
Protest groups planned marches on the summit site. Concrete barriers were in place outside the PNC Financial Services Group building, suggested by anti-capitalist protesters as a target for rallies on Friday, along with other companies such as Starbucks and McDonald's.
(Additional reporting from Reuters bureaus worldwide; Writing by Mark Potter and Steve Holland; Editing by John O'Callaghan and Frances Kerry)