Washington summit targets at crisis
Updated: 2008-11-16 09:48

World leaders facing the difficult job of walking out of a grave economic crisis at an earlier date, agreed on Saturday in Washington DC to work more closely and coordinate more on economic policies in the coming days.

However, they put off sorting out any detailed plans on overhauling financial management and regulation, or revising the problematic global currency trade and settlement regime till their next summit, scheduled on April 30, when the United States is steered by a new Barack Obama administration.

G20 leaders pose for a group photo at the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy at the National Building Museum in Washington, November 15, 2008. [Agencies]

Significant at the rare summit of 21 nations, developed or developing, and four global financial organizations, nearly all the top leaders agreed that the current round of credit debacle and economic downturn is felt across the board, making a global response more likely.

“Emerging market countries were not the cause of this crisis, but they are amongst the worst affected victims,” said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Underscoring how bad things have gotten this time, US President George W Bush, the host, said he had agreed to the US$700 billion government bailout plan only after being told the nation was risk of falling into “a depression greater than the Great Depression.”

At the conclusion of talks that took place over the past two days, the leaders released a joint communiqué that was modest in scope but high in hopes. Covering eight pages and 47 items of action, the communiqué is to establish a series of new safeguards for the current fragile and opaque world financial system. Nearly all the efforts are aimed in some way at better pinpointing risky investment patterns and potentially perilous regulatory blind spots, before they bring down companies and even countries.

China has announced a massive US$586 billion fiscal spending plan before the end of 2010 to stimulate a slowing economy, the world's third largest. President Hu Jintao urged at the summit that world community should draw lessons from the crisis, and undertake earnest reforms of the current global financial system, and establishing a new international monetary order that is “fair, just and inclusive”. He also said those crucial reforms ought to be implemented in a comprehensive, balanced, incremental and result-oriented manner.

-- "A comprehensive reform is one that has a general design and includes measures to improve not only the international financial system, monetary system and financial institutions, but also international financial rules and procedures" ;

-- "A balanced reform is one that is based on overall consideration and seeks a balance among the interests of all parties" ;

-- "An incremental reform is one that seeks gradual progress," said the president, adding that it should proceed in a phased manner, starting with the easier issues, and achieve the final objectives of reform through sustained efforts.

-- "A result-oriented reform is one that lays emphasis on practical results. All reform measures should contribute to international financial stability and global economic growth as well as the well being of people in all countries," Hu stressed.

US President George W. Bush (L) sits next to China's President Hu Jintao before a dinner in the White House for the participants in the G20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy in Washington November 14, 2008. [Agencies]

Based on those considerations, China's president listed four priorities in reforming the international financial system -- stepping up international cooperation in financial regulation; advancing reform of international financial institutions; encouraging regional financial cooperation; and improving the international currency system.

Pushed by Bush, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to free markets and free trade. The meeting laid out a roadmap for overhauling financial regulations that would postpone most of the difficult decisions until US President-elect Obama takes office in late January.

The measures include phasing in a so-called “college of supervisors”, which would share information about global financial organs, and a plan to coordinate accounting standards.

To help countries hurt by the crisis, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is pushing for the resources of the International Monetary Fund to be expanded. The fund, he said, should function like an “international central bank.” The trouble with this idea is that there are only a handful of candidates with enough cash to pour money into the IMF — Japan, China, and oil producers like Saudi Arabia.

To persuade these countries to increase their contributions would require giving them a larger role in the governance of the fund. And that would mean reducing the influence of Britain and other European countries.