Major nations near agreement to attack imbalances

The world's major economies neared an agreement Friday on how to measure the types of dangerous imbalances that contributed to the worst global downturn in seven decades.

The world's major economies neared an agreement Friday on how to measure the types of dangerous imbalances that contributed to the worst global downturn in seven decades.

After an all-night negotiating session, officials said that they had resolved key issues that had blocked implementation of a rebalancing program. The effort will monitor the major economies and prod them to take corrective action when imbalances in such areas as foreign trade or government debt rise to excessive levels.

Two G-20 officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that various objections raised by China and other countries had been resolved and this should allow the monitoring program to go forward. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a joint announcement by G-20 finance officials expected later Friday.

The G-20 is composed of the traditional economic powers including the United States, Japan and European nations as well as fast-growing emerging markets including China, now the world's second largest economy, India and Brazil.

After the financial crisis struck in the fall of 2008, the G-20 took over from the G-7 as the pre-eminent policy setting group for the global economy. The talks Friday were part of three days of discussions and will wrap up Saturday with meetings of the steering committees for the 187-nation International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

At a summit meeting of leaders in Pittsburgh in September 2009, the G-20 nations agreed to pursue policies to rebalance global growth in which countries such as China and Germany, which run large trade surpluses, would push for less reliance on exports and more domestic-led growth.

At the same time, big deficit countries such as the United States would seek to trim huge deficits in government budgets and trade. The U.S. deficits were seen as a major culprit in the last recession by attracting foreign capital which fueled an unsustainable boom in housing, supported by foreign investments of subprime mortgages that ended up imploding and dragging down the U.S. financial institutions.

But China in particular has resisted the rebalancing program, contending that its trade surpluses and huge reserves of foreign currencies were not too blame for the financial meltdown in Western nations. Beijing also sees the rebalancing effort, which is being championed by the United States, as a backdoor way to bring greater pressure on China to allow its currency to rise in value against the dollar.

The Obama administration and the previous Bush administration have for years campaigned for an appreciation of the yuan as a way to narrow America's record trade deficits with China. Critics contend that Washington has failed to crack down on China's unfair trade practices, such as currency manipulation, a complaint that has drawn more attention at a time of high unemployment in the United States.

The discussion in Washington will be followed up by more work on the monitoring process to be done by the International Monetary Fund with a goal of having the leaders of the G-20 countries sign off on the approach at their meeting in Cannes, France, in November.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin told reporters a key remaining question will be "whether we make the monitoring mandatory and have sanctions" for failure to address imbalances in a timely fashion.

In addition to the effort to rebalance the global economy, the G-20 discussions also focused on a number of global issues from how to protect poor nations from soaring energy and food prices to launching a coordinated effort to support the government transitions under way in Egypt and Tunisia. The talks also focused on Japan's progress in recovering from a devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit on March 11.

A week after the March 11 earthquake in Japan, the G-7 countries — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — intervened in currency markets to keep the Japanese yen from rising against the dollar. That would have delivered a big blow to Japan's fragile economy by depressing the country's exports.

Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told Geithner during a meeting Friday that Tokyo appreciated Washington's support of a G-7 action to intervene jointly in currency markets to prevent the yen from sharply appreciating against the dollar, a development which threatened Japan's exports and would have been one more blow to the country's fragile recovery. It was the first joint currency intervention by the G-7 since September 2000.


Associated Press writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report.

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