G20 defuses talk of 'currency war', no accord on debt

MOSCOW Sat Feb 16, 2013 4:01pm IST

G20 representatives meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

G20 representatives meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin February 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Group of 20 nations declared on Saturday there would be no 'currency war' and deferred plans to set new debt-cutting targets in an indication of concern about the fragile state of the world economy.

Japan's expansive policies, which have driven down the yen, escaped criticism in a statement thrashed out in Moscow by financial policymakers from the G20, which groups developed and emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy.

After late night talks, finance ministers and central bankers agreed on wording closer than expected to a joint statement issued last Tuesday by the Group of Seven rich nations backing market-determined exchange rates.

A draft communique seen by delegates on Friday had steered clear of the G7's call for fiscal and monetary policy not to be targeted at exchange rates but the later version included a G20 commitment to refrain from competitive devaluations and stated monetary policy would be directed at price stability and growth.

"The language has been strengthened since our discussions last night," Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters. "It's stronger than it was, but it was quite clear last night that everyone around the table wants to avoid any sort of currency disputes."

The communique, seen by Reuters ahead of publication, did not single out Japan for aggressive monetary and fiscal policies that have seen the yen drop 20 percent.

The statement reflected a substantial, but not complete, endorsement of Tuesday's statement by the G7 nations - the United States, Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.

"We all agreed on the fact that we refuse to enter any currency war," French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told reporters.

NO FISCAL TARGETS

The text also contained a commitment to credible medium-term fiscal strategy, but stopped short of setting specific goals.

A debt-cutting pact struck in Toronto in 2010 will expire this year if leaders fail to agree to extend it at a G20 summit of leaders in St Petersburg in September.

"Advanced economies will develop credible medium-term fiscal strategies ... by the St. Petersburg summit," the communique said.

The United States says is on track to meet its Toronto pledge but argues that the pace of future fiscal consolidation must not snuff out demand. Germany and others are pressing for another round of binding debt-cutting goals.

Backing in the communique for the use of domestic monetary policy to support economic recovery reflected the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to monetary stimulus through quantitative easing, or QE, to promote recovery and jobs.

QE entails large-scale bond buying -- $85 billion a month in the Fed's case -- that helps economic growth but creates money, much of which has leaked into emerging markets, threatening to destabilise them.

That was offset in the communique by a commitment to minimise "negative spillovers" of the resulting financial flows that emerging markets fear may pump up asset bubbles and ruin their export competitiveness.

"Major developed nations (should) pay attention to their monetary policy spillover," Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao was quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying in Moscow.

"Major developed countries' implementation of excessively relaxed currency policy has an influence on the world economy."

Russia, this year's chair of the G20, said the group had failed to reach agreement on medium-term budget deficit levels and also expressed concern about ultra-loose policies that it and other big emerging economies say could store up trouble for later.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said a rebalancing of global growth required more than an adjustment of exchange rates.

"Structural reforms in all countries, either with a positive or negative balance of payments, should play a bigger role," he said in an address to Saturday's talks, also highlighting the risk of spillover effects from unconventional monetary policy.

The G20 put together a huge financial backstop to halt a market meltdown in 2009 but has failed to reach those heights since. At successive meetings, Germany has pressed the United States and others to do more to tackle their debts. Washington in turn has urged Berlin to do more to increase demand.

On currencies, the G20 text reiterated its commitment last November, to move towards "exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying fundamentals and avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments".

"The G7 made a very clear statement this week. I think you'll see the G20 echo what was said, and say that currencies should not be used as a tool of competitive devaluation," Britain's finance minister, George Osborne, said in Moscow.

"Countries shouldn't make the mistake of the past of using currencies as a tool of economic warfare."

(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer, Lesley Wroughton, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Jan Strupczewski, Lidia Kelly, Katya Golubkova, Jason Bush and Michael Martina. Writing by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mike Peacock)

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