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G7 vows utmost efforts not to distort free trade

THE G7 industrial powers, fearing a 1930s-style resurgence of protectionism, ended crisis talks in Rome on Saturday with a pledge to do all they could to combat recession without distorting free trade.

They also regarded China, a non-member, as vital to success at an April G20 summit in London where both rich and developing economies hope to produce visible progress on promises to make the global financial system safer and more accountable.

"We are confronted with a broader and deeper slowdown than has been experienced in decades," said United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, making his G7 debut in the job. "We will work closely with our colleagues in the G7 and the G20 to build consensus on reforms that match the scope of the problem revealed by this crisis."

Geithner said that China played a crucial stabilizing role. "The United States is very much committed to working closely with China," he told a news conference.

In Rome, it was mostly renewed pledges from the gathered finance ministers and central bankers, amid mounting tension over the impact economic stimulus plans and state bailouts of industry could have on each other.

The US Congress adopted a US$787-billion economic rescue plan that includes tens of billions of dollars for public building projects, with conditions including a "Buy American" clause insisting firms use US steel and other US-made goods.

Policy options

The final joint statement strove to allay concerns that governments determined to protect jobs and ailing industries would abandon commitments to fair cross-border competition.

It said that stabilizing the economy and financial markets was paramount, meaning that all had to work together and use all possible policy options to maximum effect.

"We will have to do everything to ensure history does not repeat itself," German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck said.

In a statement of his own, Geithner said that the world faced the worst economic and financial crisis in decades and governments, facing growing domestic unease over the millions of jobs being lost, must respond forcefully.

US President Barack Obama had ensured that implementing the new stimulus package would be done in a way that respected America's international obligations, said Geithner, without going into specifics on how that all squared.

Germany and Britain had kicked off the meeting on Friday by saying that the world should avoid repeating the protectionist spiral seen during the Great Depression. They also said the London G20 summit would have to deliver concrete progress on reform of international financial regulation and supervision.

Several ministers, including Germany's Peer Steinbrueck and Italy's Giulio Tremonti, said they were happy to hear Geithner confirm that Washington, despite the Buy America clause, was also pledging to respect the rules of the World Trade Organization.


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