G20 ushers in a 'new world order'
BOLD STEPS 8 Leaders shift from U.S. model of freewheeling finance, forming historic accord to regulate risk UNITED FRONT 8 Countries pledge $1-trillion in aid for struggling nations, but economists blast lack of new stimulus


April 3, 2009

LONDON -- The leaders of the Group-of-20 countries put on a show of unity yesterday to fight the global recession with pledges of more than $1-trillion (U.S.) in aid to help struggling countries and revive trade.

But their failure to unveil new stimulus spending was criticized as a "disappointment" by economists, who fear the global downturn will only deepen unless governments everywhere open the stimulus spigots even further.

The G20 countries also agreed to rein in the world's financial system through the creation of international accounting standards, the regulation of debt-ratings agencies and hedge funds, a clampdown on tax havens and controls on executive pay. But the lack of details on these proposals suggests they will not become effective any time soon.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who had been calling for more stimulus spending, nonetheless welcomed the communiqué.

"The steps that have been taken are critical to preventing us sliding into a depression," Mr. Obama told reporters after the close of the G20 gathering. "They are bolder and more rapid than any international response that we've seen to a financial crisis in memory."

Characterizing the agreement as historic, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the summit's host, said the agreement ushered in a new period of international co-operation while ending the era of the Washington consensus, a term from the late 1980s that has come to be equated with market fundamentalism.

"Today we have reached a new consensus that we take global action together to deal with problems that we face, that we will do what is necessary to restore growth," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined fellow leaders in the praise, saying new regulations will help the market work better. "The declaration is very clear that globalization, that open markets, that liberalized trade remain the essential base of our economic system and will be the basis of any recovery and future economic growth," he said.

The agreement was the object of last-minute negotiations, and overcame the initial objections of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who at one point threatened to leave the meeting if it did not agree with his position on stricter regulation of the financial world.

Ms. Merkel said she was pleased the group came to a broad agreement after such a short period of time. "We now have been able to rally around a message of unity," she told a news conference.

Mr. Sarkozy said his alliance with Ms. Merkel worked well.

"We would never have hoped to get so much," he said.

Yesterday's agreement calls for the creation of a Financial Stability Board, which is designed to work with the International Monetary Fund to provide early warning of financial risks and the actions needed to reduce them. The agreement says the countries will take action against tax havens by slapping sanctions against offending nations. "The era of banking secrecy is over," the communiqué said.

The $1-trillion-plus in emergency aid is anchored by a commitment to add $500-billion to the resources of the IMF, taking it to $750-billion, a level that should give it enough firepower to extend bailout loans to the hardest-hit countries. Of this amount, $100-billion will come from the European Union, $100-billion from Japan and $40-billion from China.

Another $250-billion will be given to the IMF to support special drawing rights, the organization's own "basket" currency that can be used to boost global liquidity. Trade finance will be supported with $250-billion channelled through the World Bank and export agencies, though almost none of that amount has been committed yet. The IMF has also agreed to sell gold reserves to provide as much as $50-billion in aid to the poorest countries.

The G20's IMF measures were more aggressive than expected and helped lift the world's markets. Commodities such as oil and metals rose as traders evidently took the view that global growth would revive more quickly than they had expected. News of possible U.S. accounting changes of the mark-to-market rules, used to value assets, helped to trigger a bank rally.

"What is most encouraging for the G20 leaders summit in London today is the building evidence that the Lehman-related collapse in global demand seems to be coming to an end," Derek Halpenny, the head of currency research at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in London said in a report yesterday.

The communiqué also called on countries to resist protectionist measures.

The regulatory changes agreed by the G20 countries are sweeping, but lacked detail about their scope and implementation, whether or not they could be enforced globally or nationally.

Mr. Brown said that hedge funds, whose failure can trigger a domino effect in the financial-services industry, would be subject to greater regulation and oversight. Pay and bonuses will have to adhere to "sustainable" compensation schemes.

"There will be no more rewards for failure," Mr. Brown said.

The leaders, emboldened by the recent progress in prying open tax havens, said sanctions will be slapped on any sponsor country that refuses to sign international agreements to exchange tax information.

Mr. Brown said another G20 summit will take place late this year - city to be determined - to review the measures unveiled yesterday and at previous summits.