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Obama hosts Brown to compose G20 song sheet
By Cai Hong (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-03-06 07:43

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was the first European leader hosted by new US President Barrack Obama at the White House.

This is no surprise given the special relationship between the two countries.

Brown met Obama on Tuesday and on Wednesday addressed both houses of Congress. The latter is an honor bestowed on only four of his predecessors: Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Brown spoke to US politicians focused mainly on saving American jobs.

The first meeting between Brown and Obama was an important prelude to the G20 summit in London in April. The British Prime Minister took his proposal for a "global New Deal" to the American Congress. With Brown hosting a summit of the Group of 20 developed and developing countries in London on April 2, he wants to ensure he and Obama share the same goals for a meeting which the world is looking to for a new economic direction. "There needs to be a very strong, shared agenda between the UK and the US going forward to the summit," a British official in Washington told reporters, adding that Brown would be putting forward ideas for "cleaning up and reforming the world of finance".

Though the British Prime Minister beat his counterparts, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to the Obama-occupied White House, he was expected to come to Washington with an allied voice. The proposed deal after all was the same theme at an emergency summit of the European Union held in Brussels. The aim of the meeting was to agree on a coordinated EU position for the G20 meeting in March (Finance Ministers) and April (Heads of State).

Brown's global New Deal focuses on strengthening regulations, promoting free trade, resuming bank lending, creating an early warning system to prevent another financial crisis and doing all of that in an environmentally friendly way. Among them is a commitment from all countries to spurn protectionism. The US President is facing tremendous pressure from unions and industry to protect US jobs by erecting barriers to trade. Obama may find an ally in the British Prime Minister, much as George W. Bush needed an accomplice in Tony Blair for his military adventures in Iraq.

Barack Obama is reaching out to Gordon Brown to help deliver an international climate change treaty and steer the world towards economic recovery in the face of a fiercely protectionist mood in the United States and elsewhere that could plunge the world into a full-scale depression.

Brown sought in his Congress address to persuade American politicians to endorse plans for a "grand bargain" at the G20 summit. Writing in the Sunday Times of London, Brown said he and Obama would discuss a "global New Deal whose impact can stretch from the villages of Africa to reforming the financial institutions of London and New York".

The G20 summit in Washington last year met the modest expectations set for it. The leaders of the 20 nations agreed to "a broad but fundamentally nonbinding agenda for overhauling financial market regulation" - a global clearinghouse for credit derivatives, a regulatory college of supervisors and a study group on executive pay - but will leave the details to the meeting in London next month. On their promise to tackle the global economic downturn, most countries have taken steps to stimulate their economies, although tensions emerged over what kind of packages will work best. A hoped-for breakthrough in world trade talks by year-end never materialized and a pledge not to raise trade barriers for 12 months is already under pressure. In February, Brown launched an ambitious manifesto for the summit. Entitled The Road to the G20, the dossier calls for world leaders to "stimulate the global economy", bump-start bank lending and reform the international system of financial regulation. Brown favors a new Bretton Woods - the conference that established the World Bank and International Monetary Fund after the Second World War - to better regulate global financial markets and avoid future credit crunches. He said world leaders should strike a "grand bargain" to tackle the global economic crisis. That would require close cooperation on banking reform and fiscal stimulus packages as well as an acceptance of joint responsibilities and obligations.

However, the US President's policy of "America first" could threaten Brown's chances of securing an international deal to rescue the global economy at the London summit, the first such international event Obama is expected to attend. A statement by the White House referred to the "special partnership" with Britain and said the two leaders would discuss the G20 economic summit in London on April 2, a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and the spring NATO summit. British officials doubt how much attention the Obama administration will pay to the London summit as it has been distracted by domestic crises. Brown's aides cannot rule out a scenario in which the US administration retreats into isolationism, with the president attending the summit out of "polite interest".

Already the US has been criticized for "protectionism" after signing his fiscal stimulus package with a "buy American" clause. The Obama administration is under intense pressure to concentrate on the domestic agenda. "Obama needs to convince the American people he is looking after their needs first and once he has done that, he can turn to things like international co-operation and open markets," William Gale, economics expert at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, was quoted as saying. The British Prime Minister is looking to cement the so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States. With an election in Britain likely to be held this year, he will be hoping to bask in Obama's reflected glory. His party hopes it will boost his flagging poll scores.

(China Daily 03/06/2009 page10)