March 3, 2020 / 3:19 AM / 4 months ago

U.S.' Mnuchin, Powell to lead G7 virus call as central banks prepare to act

ROME/PARIS (Reuters) - G7 finance ministers and central bank governors will hold a conference call on Tuesday morning to discuss measures to deal with the widening coronavirus outbreak and its economic impact, a U.S. Treasury spokeswoman said on Monday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (R) and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell pose for G-20 finance ministers and central banks governors family photo during the IMF/World Bank spring meeting in Washington, U.S., April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/Files

The call, to be led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, comes as the world’s top three central banks look set to take steps to limit economic damage from the outbreak.

Bank of Japan Governor BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde both issued statements echoing Powell’s pledge last week to “act as appropriate” to support the economy.

French and Italian sources familiar with the G7 arrangements said the finance leaders’ call is set for 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT), 2-1/2 hours before U.S. stock markets open. The United States is chairing the G7 group of wealthy industrial democracies this year.

The outbreak is plunging the world economy into its worst downturn since the global financial crisis more than 10 years ago, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Monday, urging governments and central banks to fight back to avoid an even steeper slump.

Shortly after Tuesday’s call, Mnuchin is due to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee on the Trump administration’s proposed 2021 budget. The Trump administration has asked Congress for an extra $2.5 billion in funding to fight the coronavirus.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank said on Monday they stand ready to help member countries deal with the coronavirus outbreak, including through emergency funding.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday that G7 countries will take “concerted action” to limit the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on economic growth and their finance ministers will discuss by phone this week how best to act.

Le Maire said on France 2 television that the impact from the coronavirus outbreak on French growth “will be much more significant” than his earlier predictions of it shaving 0.1 percentage point from 2020 output growth. He reiterated that the hotel, restaurant, air transport and event industries were the worst hit sectors in France.

After a meeting with Le Maire on Monday, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the two countries were monitoring the spread of the virus closely and “will take decisive action if necessary.”

Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte in Rome, David Lawder and Andrea Shalal in Washington and Leigh Thomas in Paris; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler

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