G20 to seek deal on imbalances amid crowded agenda

By @ibtimes on

The world's biggest economies will struggle this week to make headway on a plan to identify countries that put the global economy at risk with China opposed to any attempt to curb its growth.

Finance chiefs from the Group of 20 countries will try to advance a complex plan for better balancing the world economy, even as concerns about rising oil prices and surging capital flows -- two immediate recovery threats -- crowd the agenda.

Ahead of the G20 meeting on Friday, No. 2 economy China warned it was not about to permit others to draw up a political tool for curbing its red-hot economic expansion by trying to cap its hefty trade surpluses.

But the French hosts of the session, which occurs on the sidelines of semiannual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, want to build on a hard-fought agreement in February on indicators to use to measure global imbalances.

The G20 agrees the world economy needs to be weaned from U.S. spending and that more demand must come from trade surplus nations, most notably China. But agreement on how to achieve this better balance is proving difficult.

This time, French officials say the G20 should not only agree on how to identify those causing imbalances but also devise a way to red-flag those most responsible.

We hope to reach a deal on the methodology this week, said a French source. We will demand more of the economies which are systemic than the economies which are not.

NEW RISKS EMERGE

But even as the G20 seeks consensus on how to lay a more solid foundation for long-term expansion, oil prices near a 32-month high and the risk of out-of-control inflation and asset bubbles in emerging markets all demand attention.

France, the G20 chair this year, wants to make progress toward a code of conduct setting conditions for the first time for the use of controls to tame the type of hot money flows that are threatening to destabilize many emerging markets.

The IMF has agreed that capital controls can be useful at times, but should be seen as a last resort. G20 members Brazil, South Korea and Turkey have used them and are unlikely to bend to curbs that would limit their ability to do so again.

French officials also want to see movement toward rules for curbing commodities price volatility, although officials said there was no likelihood of an agreement in Washington on a proposal to allow trading limits in commodities markets.

The range of issues confronting its members complicates the G20's effort to craft a road map for sustainable global growth. France hopes a road map encompassing not only the indicators to gauge imbalances but a means for applying them can be signed at a summit in November.

The G20 agreed in February on a list of external measures like the trade balance and net investment flows and internal ones like public debt and deficits and private savings rates to use when trying to measure trade and other imbalances.

But with big exporting nations and major commodities producers resistant to imposing fixed numeric targets for the indicators, officials said the guidelines will have to take into account the specific structure of each member's economy.

Officials would look at statistical data and use modeling to analyze how agreed-upon indicators compare with historic averages. Countries identified as having problems will pass to a second stage of closer scrutiny, G20 officials say.

PEER PRESSURE

Some observers doubt whether major economies like China and the United States can be obliged to take corrective action on sensitive issues like their trade balances, but G20 officials hope the public and collective nature of their assessments will spur countries into action. A list of countries needing to take measures is not likely until later in the year.

In a communique on Friday, the G20 is expected to say the recovery from the 2007-2009 financial crisis is intact despite damage from Japan's earthquake and political instability in North Africa and the Middle East, officials say.

With recoveries strengthening and oil prices presenting an inflation threat, some of the world's central banks have begun to pull back on their economic supports.

The European Central Bank raised interest rates on Thursday and China's central bank has also been trying to temper expansion. In contrast, the U.S. Federal Reserve -- blamed by emerging markets for spurring hot money flows -- is expected to finish out a planned $600 billion bond-buying plan.

Managing exits from supportive fiscal and monetary policies is also likely to be a subject of discussion.

(Additional reporting by Yann Le Guernigou in Paris, Glenn Somerville in Washington, Louise Egan in Ottawa and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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