G20 ignores German calls for help

By Alan Crawford, AAP

Group of 20 nations rebuffed German-led calls to come to Europe's rescue as it battles the region's debt crisis, saying any decision on outside help hinges on the eurozone delivering more financial firepower within two months.

A European review of its financial firewall against the crisis next month is "essential" before any consideration to "mobilise resources" for the International Monetary Fund, the G20 said in Mexico City.

Progress will be assessed in April, when officials gather in Washington for the IMF's northern spring meetings.

G20 officials meeting in Mexico over the past two days sided with the US and deferred Europe's bid to raise fresh money for the IMF that could be used to defuse the crisis. That is the second time in almost four months that the world's biggest economies have declined to rally to Europe's side, even as the IMF warns the crisis risks triggering another global recession.

The spotlight now shifts to Germany, Europe's biggest economy, which is weighing whether to agree to beef up the region's financial backstop to a potential €750 billion ($1.2 trillion) at a March 1-2 European summit.

"Europe has no balance of payments deficit so it doesn't really need any outside money," Jim O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said in an email response to questions.

"It needs their own policymakers, especially Germany, to show leadership."

Germany went in to the Mexico meetings urging G20 nations to find fresh money for the IMF.

In a February 15 document, the European Union called on G20 countries "and other financially strong IMF members to support the efforts to safeguard financial stability by contributing to the increase in IMF resources".

Instead, in Mexico, the US led calls on Europe to step up, with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner saying in a speech that the region needed to make their crisis-fighting commitments "credible".

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said a deal struck on February 21 for a second Greek bailout of €130 billion showed "Europe has done its homework."

The exchange underscored G20 divisions as Japan, Brazil, Russia and the UK joined with the US and Canada in prodding the eurozone to boost its crisis defences.

"Until we see the colour of their money, I don't think you are going to see any money from the rest of the world," UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said.

While the German Government has yet to show its hand on a plan to combine the region's temporary and permanent rescue funds, Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated she is open to review the matter at next week's EU summit in Brussels. Her Government must first win a parliamentary vote in Berlin today sanctioning last week's bailout for Greece.

EU Economic and Monetary Commissioner Olli Rehn, asked in Mexico if he expected a deal to combine the funds at the Brussels summit, said he anticipated a result "in the course of March".

"The Germans have their own sequencing" and "want Greece out of the way" before debating the firewall, Jacques Cailloux of Royal Bank of Scotland Group, said by phone.

"Any hope there could have been for an agreement on a higher firewall as early as this week's summit is fading."

Even so, the G20's stance on additional funds is not as big a focus for investors as Greece and the European Central Bank's decision to offer banks unlimited liquidity for three years, Cailloux said.

- Alan Crawford, Bloomberg

STABILISATION IN EUROZONE

The eurozone is a safer place for investors than it was only a few months ago, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi says.

Speaking after a meeting of the Group of 20 top and developing economies in Mexico City, Draghi said many participants had noted how much the situation in the eurozone had changed since the last gathering in November.

"We were in a very weak fourth quarter last year. Now we can see a tentative stabilisation at low levels of activity but also some signs - very first signs - of some improvements here and there," Draghi said.

"In some countries there will be a mild recession, but for the average of the euro area, the situation seems to be stabilising."

Since November, Europe has agreed on a second bailout package for Greece, clinched an accord on dramatic economic reforms and the ECB has ploughed in nearly half a trillion euros to ease bank liquidity, Draghi noted.

Moreover, crisis-hit eurozone countries such as Spain and Italy have seen their borrowing costs drop and investors such as US money markets, the first to exit the euro area, are investing again in the bloc, he said.

Speaking alongside Draghi, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said: "We see increasing signs of stabilisation in the market and I expect a return to positive growth for the EU and the euro area in the second half of this year.

"Overall, over the last 48 hours, I sensed a more positive atmosphere among our partners."

- AAP

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