G20 support builds to adopt ambitious target for global growth

Reuters
G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors begin their annual meeting in Sydney
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G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors begin their annual meeting in Sydney, February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Gernot Heller and Cecile Lefort

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The world's top economies may agree to set an ambitious target for faster global growth at a weekend meeting in Sydney, where major central banks are also being urged to coordinate policies to avoid "surprises" that could further roil emerging markets.

Opening the two-day meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers on Saturday, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said support was building for setting a firm goal for growth.

"I have a great sense of hope that this G20 meeting will be able to lay down a real and tangible framework for an increase in the growth of the global economy over the next five years," said Hockey, who is hosting the Sydney gathering.

If adopted, the plan would be a departure for the G20, as previous attempts to set fiscal and current account targets have faltered. And while Canada's central bank chief Stephen Poloz called the goal "aspirational" and doubts remain about its implementation, it would give the group fresh focus and mark a sea change from recent meetings where the debate was all about growth versus budget austerity.

France's finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, welcomed a goal of lifting world growth by a total of 2.5 percentage points over five years, calling it ambitious but "not unrealistic".

A G20 source said Germany had dropped its opposition to setting an overall target, as long as there were no goals imposed for individual states.

However, not all the German camp seemed to be happy, with Jens Weidmann, head of the country's central bank, calling quantitative targets "problematic".

And Nhlanhla Nene, South Africa's Deputy Finance Minister, said the target would be meaningless unless issues faced by emerging economies such as inequality, high unemployment, and volatile global financial conditions were addressed.

IMF PLAN

The plan borrows wholesale from an International Monetary Fund paper prepared for the Sydney meeting which estimated that structural reforms would raise world growth by about 0.5 percentage point per year over the next five years, boosting global output by $2.25 trillion.

The IMF has forecast global growth of 3.75 percent for this year and 4 percent in 2015.

The laundry list of reforms run the usual gamut of liberalizing product and labor markets, lowering barriers to trade, attracting more women into the workforce and boosting investment in infrastructure.

Still there were no details on how or whether the G20 would police each country's progress on the reforms, many of which would likely be politically unpopular at home.

Olli Rehn, European Union's Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, said the bloc would back the growth target for the G20 group that accounts for 85 percent of global economic output provided it came with a firm commitment to bold reforms.

He suggested that reform progress could be monitored by the IMF and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and that EU's policy coordination and surveillance could serve as a model.

The onus would be on the rich nations to pick up the baton on growth from the developing countries, who had carried the world economy in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The emerging members have also been pressing for the U.S. Federal Reserve to try to avoid sparking market volatility through better messaging as its throttles back on asset buying.

There was never much expectation the Fed would consider actually slowing the pace of tapering, but its emerging peers were hoping for more cooperation on policy.

"I think if there was a 'no surprises policy' in relation to monetary policy, and that central banks around the world have reasonable warnings of what may be events that do create market volatility, then I think that is not unreasonable," said Australia's Hockey.

Others were not so sure, pointing out that troubles of hardest-hit emerging economies, such as Brazil and Turkey, were largely home-made and the Fed's tapering was in fact a good thing: a sign of U.S. economy's improving health.

Even Indonesia, one of the "Fragile Five" major emerging economies, said the Fed's gradual withdrawal of stimulus was not to blame for all the ills of developing world.

"I have to admit that emerging markets should do their own homework," Finance Minister Chatib Basri told Reuters.

(With reporting by Jane Wardell, Ian Chua, Matt Siegel, Jan Strupczewski, Louise Egan, Leika Kihara; Writing by Wayne Cole; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Lincoln Feast)

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