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G-7 vows to keep up free trade

February 15, 2009|Associated Press

ROME — The Group of 7 finance ministers pledged Saturday to avoid resorting to protectionism as they try to stimulate their economies in the face of the world's worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

The meeting marked the international debut of U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who assured his counterparts that President Obama's $787-billion stimulus plan, approved Friday, would not violate in any way the United States' commitment to free trade.

Geithner appealed to the "common imperative" to sustain open trade.

"These are global challenges and it is imperative that we work together to address them," Geithner told reporters afterward. "Effective global response will require sustained action by governments working with the international financial institutions."

The meeting's host, Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, affirmed "strong agreement" among the ministers on rejecting protectionism.

"It is a concrete danger, not only for economies that depend heavily on exports," he said.

Even as gloomy economic news piled up -- with Europe sinking deeper into recession and the G-7 saying the crisis would continue at least through the end of the year -- the ministers touted in their final statement "the exceptional measures" that had been "collectively taken."

The meeting was largely an affirmation of policies and actions already being taken -- including stimulus packages and the need to isolate bad assets -- but the final statement didn't indicate how to move forward.

Germany and Japan, which are net exporters, were especially keen to see the group endorse efforts to fight protectionism, said German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, noting that 40% of German output was export-driven.

"This is the reason why we are the most affected by this worldwide recession," Steinbrueck said at a news conference.

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