Washington/Brussels: Top US officials on Monday urged other countries to step up spending to combat recession but Europe dismissed the call, exposing a rift before a summit of the world’s largest rich and developing economies.
Finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations meet this coming weekend to lay the groundwork for a summit on 2 April, where leaders hope to present a united front in tackling the economic crisis.
“We’re doing more in weeks than other countries do in years,” US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Reuters after briefing US lawmakers on the administration’s economic stimulus and financial stability programs.
His comments underscored a call by Lawrence Summers, US President Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, for governments to pump more money into the economy to counter recession.
“The right macroeconomic focus for the G20 is on global demand and the world needs more global demand,” Summers said in a Financial Times interview on Monday.
Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers, rejected the notion that European governments’ fiscal policy was not aggressive enough.
“The 16 finance ministers agreed that recent American appeals insisting Europeans make an added budgetary effort were not to our liking, given that we are not prepared to go further in the recovery packages we have put forward,” he told reporters in Brussels after ministers held regular talks.
Finance ministers from Europe’s single-currency zone met in Brussels on Monday, and were due to widen their discussion to ministers from the entire 27-country European Union on Tuesday.
German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck echoed Juncker as he arrived for the talks. “We are not debating any additional measures,” he said.
A document the EU ministers are expected to approve sets out Europe’s position for the G20 talks and makes clear Europe feels it has announced sufficient fiscal stimulus for now, and that what counts is rolling out all measures rapidly and in a coordinated manner.
“Continuing international coordination of fiscal stimulus measures is key,” says the document, seen by Reuters.
Total support provided by fiscal policies in 2009 and 2010 was estimated at between 3% and 4% of EU gross domestic product, and of that about one third was due to discretionary stimulus measures, it said.
Obama’s $787 billion plan, for 2009/10 but a bit longer in the case of tax cuts, amounts to about 5.5% of GDP.
Christina Romer, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers, also appealed for more aggressive global efforts to revive economies in a speech in Washington.
“The more that countries throughout the world can move toward monetary and fiscal expansion, the better off we will all be.”
Stimulate, repair, aid
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs brushed aside a report in The Wall Street Journal that there was disagreement over what the primary focus of the G20 should be, saying both fiscal policy and regulatory reform would be on Obama’s agenda.
“I don’t think there’s any rift at all” between US officials calling for more stimulus and Europeans wanting the G20 focus to be on increasing regulation, he said.
A US Treasury official told Reuters there was a need to focus both on fiscal stimulus to stem the downturn and a revamp of financial rules to prevent futures crises.
The official said there was “a sense of urgency” for the G20 to boost their crisis response efforts. These include stimulus spending, repairing the financial industry and aiding emerging economies made vulnerable by the downturn.
But these efforts should not come at the expense of measures to prevent future crises. “It’s not either-or. It’s both,” the official said.
Simon Johnson, a former International Monetary Fund chief economist, labeled the call for more fiscal stimulus a “red herring” because most European budgets are already tapped out.
Instead, he said the US comments should be seen as an indirect way to push the European Central Bank to be more aggressive with monetary policy.