Page last updated at 21:28 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 22:28 UK

Finance ministers face tough talks

By Andrew Walker
Economics correspondent, BBC World Service

Tim Geithner
Exiting stimuls schemes too soon could be damaging, says My Geithner

The G20 circus is back in London, or at least a rather cut down version of it is.

This time it is the finance ministers meeting on Friday evening and Saturday. They will be reviewing progress since the London summit in April and looking ahead to the next leaders' meeting in Pittsburgh at the end of this month.

They will not be declaring victory, but they do have reason for a little relief. The US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that since the April summit, the force of the policy response has pulled the global economy from the edge of the abyss.

Indeed it is slightly better than that. There are, Mr Geithner said, signs of positive growth. In fact it's more than just signs in some cases.

France, Germany and Japan have all recorded positive economic growth in the second quarter of the year. China and India are growing strongly. Even the US economy might now be expanding, though we won't get the data until late October.

Exit plans

Another sign of the easing of the pressure is the fact that finance ministers will start talking about what are called exit strategies. That is reversing the extraordinary measures taken to tackle the crisis in three areas; the increase in government borrowing; the increase in the money supply and bank rescues.

But it is important to emphasise that they will only talk about exit strategies. They will not start acting on them just yet.

Mr Geithner said before he headed for London that the dominant challenge was to ensure there was a durable self sustaining recovery, led by private demand - the current improvement may quite a lot to extra government spending. He was keen to emphasise that it's important not to head for the exit too soon.

They will also be talking about the reform of financial regulation. Three of the finance ministers - Britain, Germany and France - will bring with them a statement from their leaders calling for new curbs on bank bonuses.

There will certainly be some sympathy for the idea that bonuses need reform. There is a widespread view that pay arrangements encouraged excessively risky lending and trading in the financial markets.

And doing it thorough the G20 is appealing because all three countries have important financial centres which could lose business if they were to act unilaterally.

Financial cushion

However getting agreement to legally binding restraints will be difficult.

Big bonuses are headline grabbing stuff. They are comprehensible and they sound appalling. Taking action against them also makes good news copy. No doubt that is one reason why those three leaders - Gordon Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel - were keen to make such a song and dance about the issue.

But the G20 are going to be grappling with another issue that has the same fundamental objective of making finance safer and less prone to crises. That issue is capital requirements for financial institutions.

This does not make for headlines - at least not outside the financial pages. But it is important as it is about the financial cushions that banks are required to keep so that they can survive making losses.

Mr Geithner says the finance minsters will talk about capital requirements, and the aim will be what he calls more conservative constraints on leverage - what they can borrow and lend.

uxembourg Prime Minister and Eurogroup head Jean Claude Juncker (R), French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde (C) and German State Secretary of Finance Joerg Asmussen
There is plenty for financial ministers to do

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will also be on the agenda. The April summit promised to triple the resources available to the IMF to lend to countries in trouble, an increase of five hundred billion dollars. The IMF says they have commitments now of 411 billion dollars. And the European Union has this week agreed an extra 70 billion. So the total is close and the target date, IMF officials say, is the end of the year.

Reform of how the IMF is run is not so close. The idea is to give developing countries a bigger say. The principle is hard to contest, but countries which would lose voting share are reluctant.

So there's plenty of work for the finance ministers to do. And there will be critics who say the improvement since they last met is not due to their efforts. But it should be a less fraught occasion this time.

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