WASHINGTON - Leaders from some of the largest Western powers rallied support Tuesday behind a U.S. plan to build a more balanced global economy and warned against returning to business as usual once recovery takes hold.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was substantial backing among the Group of 20 nations for creating a new framework to shrink surpluses in export-rich countries such as China and boosting savings in debt-laden nations including the United States.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also supported the idea of a rebalanced global economy, to be monitored by the International Monetary Fund, saying world growth can no longer hinge solely on overextended U.S. consumers.
But French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said she feared growing signs of economic recovery could undermine commitments to rework and regulate the world financial order.
We are currently seeing, notably in the United States, sufficient signs of recovery that numerous players are saying ... let's go back to our old habits and carry on with our business as we did in the past, she told a news conference.
Brazil, one of the emerging heavyweights of the developing world, spoke out against the U.S. rebalancing proposal, saying the IMF already played a role in monitoring economies.
The way it is, this proposal is obscure and we do not agree with it, Brazil's Finance Minister Guido Mantega told reporters in New York.
The G20 club of rich and developing economies holds a two-day leaders summit in Pittsburgh from Thursday and the United States wants to see rebalancing high on the agenda.
Also up for discussion are the issues of how to nurture an economic recovery, rein in risk-taking by banks and bankers, and save the planet from global warming.
It is the third leaders' meeting since the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers a year ago and they are moving now from ways to end the worst global recession since the 1930s to discussing ways to prevent it happening again.
The G20 wants to figure out how to build a lasting economic recovery which is less prone to painful boom-bust cycles.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Tuesday the world's biggest economy was at the beginnings of a recovery, and the key was to ensure that the recovery was self-sustaining.
To make sure that as we recover from this crisis we are laying the seeds for a more balanced, more sustainable recovery: That is the agenda, Geithner said.
U.S. plans for a more balanced global economy could meet resistance from China, which is unlikely to agree to reforms that would threaten its growth, analysts said.
It was also unclear whether Germany and Japan, two other big exporters, would back the proposal. But Britain's Brown, currently chairman of the G20, said there was broad backing.
I have been talking to many countries in Asia, as well as in Europe, and I have been talking to President Obama and others, and I believe that there is support for that framework, he said.
We are looking at how we can put in place for the future the mechanism or path that can lead us to making decisions about better ways of creating growth.
A document outlining the U.S. position ahead of the summit said big exporters should consume more while debtors like the United States ought to boost savings.
The G20 must also address the sensitive issue of reforming the IMF, to win full support from emerging economies, said Ouseme Mandeng, head of public sector investment advisory at Ashmore Investment Management in London.
They are the two sides of the same coin, he said. There are opportunities to present a new vision in the post-crisis world. I'm not sure if they have the courage to do so.
China and other fast-growing nations are clamoring for more say at the IMF and other international financing institutions.
The United States has backed a plan to shift 5.0 percent of voting power to certain emerging economies from rich nations.
However, Europe has yet to fully support that proposal and the emerging economies have pushed for a 7.0 percent shift.
In an interview with Reuters, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said European countries understand it is time to move on reforming voting power in the IMF, and he expected China to be the biggest beneficiary.
BANKING AND CLIMATE CHANGES
Curbing huge pay packages for bankers is also high on Europe's to-do list for the summit. At a meeting of G20 finance leaders in London this month there was general agreement on the need to change the risk-taking culture of banks to ensure employees are not rewarded for making risky investments that later collapse.
G20 officials also concurred that there should be tighter restrictions on how much capital banks must hold to absorb losses when loans go bad, but offered no specifics.
Britain's top financial regulator said the G20's regulation coordination arm, the Financial Stability Board, would ask leaders to back its guidelines on how banks must structure pay policies to avoid big, risky bets by traders.
The FSB will state it is essential that priority use of high profits should be to rebuild the capital needed to support lending, allow official measures to be removed, prepare institutions to meet higher capital requirements, and that bonus and dividend policies should be consistent with this priority, Financial Services Authority Chairman Adair Turner told bankers in London.
On climate change, rifts remain between rich and developing economies over how quickly to cut carbon dioxide emissions and who should foot the bill. However, there were signs of progress Tuesday as Chinese President Hu Jintao announced goals to slow growth in his country's emissions.
The G20 is under pressure to show progress before 190 nations gather in Copenhagen in December to try to reach a deal to slow climate change.
(Additional reporting by Richard Leong and Walter Brandimarte in New York, Christina Fincher, Huw Jones and Sumeet Desai in London, Anna Willard in Paris and Chris Buckley and Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing; Editing by Gary Hill)