Coronavirus pandemic

G-20 economy chiefs agree to coordinate responses to pandemic

Unidentified guests attend a meeting of Finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 nations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Feb 23, 2020.
Unidentified guests attend a meeting of Finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 nations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Feb 23, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Finance ministers and central bankers from the world's 20 largest economies agreed in a video call yesterday to coordinate their responses to the worsening coronavirus pandemic as needed, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News.

He said the United States was working closely with the Group of 20 (G-20) countries, the Group of Seven (G-7), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in responding to the crisis.

G-20 leaders are due to meet for a virtual summit later this week.

"The good news is there is a lot of understanding (in) the G-20 with both central bankers and finance ministers that we are all prepared to take action to support our economies and coordinate it on a global basis as needed," Mr Mnuchin said. "This is a team effort to kill this virus and provide economic relief."

G-20 finance officials met via video call for nearly two hours as more countries imposed lockdown measures to contain the rapidly spreading virus, which has infected more than 343,000 people across the world and killed over 14,900.

The officials did not issue a joint statement after the call.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who participated in the call, urged the G-20 to send a strong signal that they are united in tackling Covid-19 and in coordinating measures to help the global economy recover.

He said during the call that "the stronger the measures to contain the pandemic, the more severe the impact on our economies".

"We must be prepared to take short-term pain to avoid bigger losses and, within each country, we will need to use fiscal tools to preserve jobs, help companies with credit facilities and support vulnerable households. We can learn from one another."

After yesterday's call, Japanese officials urged G-20 finance leaders to take timely policy steps to tackle global economic risks posed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso said he informed the G-20 that he was "deeply concerned" about the damage the coronavirus outbreak was inflicting on markets and the global economy.

 
 
 
 

The Japanese minister called for each G-20 country to "implement necessary and sufficient economic and fiscal measures".

"We need to consolidate our efforts to support the containment of the virus, the maintenance of medical systems and the development of drugs and vaccines," Mr Aso told reporters after the call. "Nations should carry out the ample economic fiscal measures needed."

The summit, called by this year's chairman, Saudi Arabia, will be complicated by an oil price war between two members, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and a war of words between two others, the US and China, over the origin of the virus.

The G-20 will aim to finalise its action plan at the next virtual meeting in spring, South Africa National Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane told Bloomberg after the call.

Among the agenda items is getting multilateral institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, to respond, he said.

Mr Mogajane also made a plea for greater support for low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

"As the impact of this pandemic hits - obviously it is going to hit - those countries may not be ready," he said. "It is important that G-20 countries stand ready to support."

Coordination among G-20 countries was instrumental in action to stabilise the global economy during the financial crisis that started in 2008.

Argentina's Economy Minister Martin Guzman said yesterday that countries must act decisively to "avoid a social meltdown" as the coronavirus pandemic spreads globally, shutting down economies and isolating their citizens.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2020, with the headline 'G-20 economy chiefs agree to coordinate responses to pandemic'. Print Edition | Subscribe