* G7 meeting opens in southern Italian port city of Bari
* Concern over Trump's intentions on trade, climate
* Mnuchin says "excited" by U.S. trade policy
* IMF says Europe must be clearer over debt relief for
(Updates with start of G7, adds quotes)
By William Schomberg and David Lawder
BARI, Italy, May 12 Finance chiefs from some of
the world's richest nations began a two-day meeting in Italy on
Friday, with Europe, Japan and Canada hoping to come away with a
clearer picture of U.S. President Donald Trump's plans on
Inequality, international tax rules, cyber security and
blocking the funding of terrorism are the focus of the official
agenda for Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers
who are meeting in the Adriatic port city.
However, Trump has threatened to upset the consensus of
recent decades on issues such as protectionism and climate
change, and his new administration was the focus for ministers
entering the 12th century Norman castle for the meeting.
"We need a strong United States to lead the global economy
and global politics in a sustainable way," said German Finance
Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble when asked what his message would be
to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, the G7 host,
said Trump's plan to slash taxes on businesses was "ambitious"
and he was keen to hear more about it from Mnuchin.
At a meeting of the larger Group of 20 finance ministers in
Germany in March, ministers dropped their traditional pledge to
keep global free trade open, bowing to an increasingly
protectionist United States.
Mnuchin, who skipped the opening session in Bari where
academics spoke on inequality and growth, arrived long after
other ministers and told reporters he was "excited" about the
emerging new U.S. trade policy.
"I think you probably saw last night we made an announcement
of a 100-day economic plan with the Chinese, so I think we are
very happy with how we are proceeding on trade," he said.
Reflecting tensions over Trump's attitude to protectionism,
there will be no formal discussion of trade in Bari, Italian
Treasury officials said. But a U.S. Treasury spokesman said the
issue was likely to come up in bilateral talks.
European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told
reporters he hoped U.S. policy would not abandon multilateralism
and free trade. "We can discuss, we can have different
appreciations, but we are in the same world and in the same
boat," he said.
The closing statement from Bari will reiterate a warning
against competitive devaluations, Italian officials said, as
March's G20 did, allaying fears that the new U.S. administration
might weaken the G20's united front on global currency policy.
GREEKS FOR BREAKFAST
Before the G7 meeting, several ministers and officials held
an early-morning discussion of Greece's long-running debt crisis
to prepare for a May 22 meeting of euro zone finance ministers
on the disbursement of new loans.
Greece's creditors, including the European Central Bank and
the International Monetary Fund, are in Bari, and the IMF, which
insists on debt relief for Athens, complained that the euro zone
was still dragging its heels on the issue.
"There is not enough clarity yet," said IMF chief Christine
Lagarde after the working breakfast. "Our European partners need
to be more specific in terms of debt relief, which is an
At a bilateral meeting before the G7 on Thursday, Italy's
Padoan sought to reassure Mnuchin about the state of Italy's
banks, an Italian official present at the meeting said.
Italian lenders are saddled with about 350 billion euros
($380 billion) of bad debt, a third of the euro zone's total,
and are considered a threat to the improving growth prospects
for the European economy.
(additional reporting by Silvia Aloisi and Gernot Heller,
writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Larry King)